What Happens When an Entire Nation Can't Find Work?

Published: Jul 01, 2015

 Job Search       

It's hard to escape the situation in Greece in the news media this week, what with the country becoming the first EU nation to default on its debts, and the rolling coverage of the upcoming referendum on whether or not it should accept continued austerity measures.

Easy to miss in amongst all of the coverage of the politics and the economics involved: the human stories at the center of it. As noted over at Vox.com, Greece's problems are "a human crisis. Unemployment in Greece is over 25 percent now—higher than the United States during the Great Depression. And high unemployment is leading to political backlash."

As the chart below  shows, there is no typo on the percent figure in that previous sentence. One in four Greek citizens is out of work at present, with the situation almost certain to get significantly worse regardless of the outcome of the upcoming referendum: a vote for austerity is a vote, in part, to stop funding government jobs; vote against it—and, by extension, to leave the Eurozone—and who knows what kind of economic damage will ensue.



By way of further contrast consider that, at the peak of the recent recession here in the U.S., the official unemployment rate stood at 10 percent—less than half the current rate in Greece. Note also that it only stayed at that level for a single month—October of 2009 (although the rate did stay above 9 percent for 30 straight months). If you were in the workforce at that time—or trying to be—think back to how difficult that period was for you or the people you know. The uncertainty of knowing if your job would still be there next month, or if you'd ever manage to find a new one. The changes you made to spending and behavior patterns in light of that uncertainty. Now imagine that the situation was twice as bad.

Depressed yet? Hold tight, because we haven't even got to the worst part: youth unemployment. Check this out, paying particular attention to the percentages in the left axis:


Yep: if you're unlucky enough to be under the age of 25 and trying to find a job in Greece right now, you're going to be up against some stiff competition--half of the people in your age group are right there with you, struggling to launch their careers (or just find something to get by) in a job market that hardly even deserves that title. If there's any group of millennials that has earned the right to lambaste the state of the world they’re inheriting from their forebears, surely they live in Greece.

Whichever way the referendum goes this weekend, spare a thought for the people who won't be in the headlines: the ordinary citizens who'd like nothing more than to have a shot at building a career, but whose prospects are hamstrung by this ongoing nightmare.