Fri, Jul 05, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Hopes and fears of Europe’s highly educated, young jobless

Twentysomethings are missing out on the homes, pensions, independence and confidence that come with steady employment

By Jon Henley  /  The Guardian, THESSALONIKI, Greece, BOLOGNA, Italy, and MALAGA,

“A wholesale destruction,” a Bologna University professor says, “of human capital.”

In the first three months of last year, Paraskeva earned 300 euros. Then nothing for four months, then 250 euros more, then nothing again. She spends “30 euros a week, max, mostly my parents’ money.” She is not entitled to unemployment benefit because what little work she has done has mostly been on the black market. So at 29, she is back living at home with her parents. Her mother has rheumatoid arthritis, her father is on dialysis — but both, thankfully, still have their jobs as teachers. And their health insurance.

As a registered jobseeker, Paraskeva gets a few discounts, and free screenings at Thessaloniki’s film festivals. She goes to classes for the jobless: art, fantasy fiction, French. She sees friends (though most of her classmates have gone abroad; she might too, next year, a funded doctorate in the US). She collects her parents’ prescriptions. She reads, a lot.

“You have to find a routine,” she says. “You need a routine. And to meet other people like you, that’s really important. To understand that it’s not your fault, you’ve done nothing wrong, that everyone’s in the same boat.” However still, some mornings “you wake up and there’s ... no meaning to getting out of bed.”

Sporadically, this overwhelming frustration boils over into anger on the streets: the indignados of Spain, the near-riots that have scarred Athens in recent months, the great movement of Portuguese protesters that forced the government into an embarrassing U-turn last year. This month, thousands marched in Rome to demand action on record unemployment.

But in between times, young people are just as likely to respond to their predicament with a mixture of gloom and resignation.

Vasilis Stolis, 27, has a master’s in political science and — apart from odd evenings playing the bouzouki in restaurants until the work dried up — has been unemployed since 2010.

“Sometimes, I’m not going to lie, it feels really bad,” he says.

Stolis lives in an apartment belonging to his grandfather. His parents, other family members, “anyone who still has an income, basically,” chip in to help with the 350 euros-odd a month he lives on.

“It’s frankly miserable, sometimes,” he says. “You pay the bills. You go out with a girl you like, you can buy just one drink. No cinema. No holidays.”

If most of these young people in the worst-affected states — Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal — are getting by, it must be at least partly thanks to some remarkably resilient, close-knit families. Many are still at home, or living — like Vasilis — in places owned by a relative, and with the help of parental handouts.

“The family,” says Andrea Pareschi, 21, a political sciences graduate from Bologna, “has become the primary social security system.” (That is while wages, pensions and benefits hold up, of course; in Greece at least, both — certainly in the public sector — are shrinking fairly fast. Stolis’s father, who works for the health service, has seen his salary slashed from 2,500 euros to 1,500 euros a month.)

One way of postponing the issue is to prolong your studies.

“As long as you’re studying, you have something to do,” says Sylvia Melchiorre, 26, who graduated from Bologna, Italy’s oldest university, spent 12 months as an au pair in Paris, and has come back to do two more years of languages and literature.

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