In a cafe in central Athens, two young men drink coffee and discuss plans for their future, going over preparations that will uproot them from the Greek capital to London.
Kostas Karanikos and Komninos Arvanitakis — both 26, both with graduate degrees, unemployed and struggling to find work — have decided to try their luck in Britain.
They are among seven out of 10 young Greeks that a survey has shown want to leave Greece for a better life abroad.
Komninos has been without a job since finishing his nine months’ military service last summer.
“It’s a nightmare,” he says.
“I love my country, all my friends and family are here, but after one year, what can I expect? I expect nothing. There’s little to look forward to here in Greece,” he says.
“We don’t have a lot of choices, that’s the sad truth,” Kostas says.
According to the survey by Kapa research for the To Vima newspaper, 73.6 percent of educated young Greeks say they would move abroad if they had the chance.
Of those, 42 percent — as many as a quarter-of-a-million young Greeks — are already making plans to leave, said the poll of 5,442 people aged 22 to 35 and with at least two years’ higher education.
Latest figures show Greek unemployment at 11.8 percent and reveal the young are hardest hit, with almost one in four 15 to 29 year olds — or 22.8 percent — out of work during the second quarter of this year.
As Greece’s recession deepens, and with government plans for further cutbacks, 86 percent surveyed believe the worst is yet to come.
“Morale in Greece is very low,” says Komninos, who has applied for more than 100 jobs in the past year with limited success.
He has a masters degree in political sciences, and Kostas in design, but the only jobs they can find are low skilled and poorly paid, often with no proper contract or overtime pay.
“There is a brain drain in Greece,” says Lois Labrianidis, an economic geographer from Thessaloniki University. “It has been going on for quite a long time.”
His estimate is that between 110,000 and 135,000 graduates are working abroad, 9 percent of the total of Greek graduates.
“Having more qualifications doesn’t mean you’re going to have less chances of being unemployed and it definitely doesn’t mean you are going to get remunerated better than the people with less qualifications,” he says.
There is little demand for graduates in the Greek economy, Labrianidis says.
This trend has increased in recent years, notably since the early 1990s with service companies competing to lower their costs, and might intensify even more with the crisis, he says.
“Too many graduates, not enough jobs,” sums up Savas Robolis, scientific director of the research arm of the GSEE, Greece’s main private sector union.
Of 80,000 new graduates seeking to enter the job market each year, he says Greek companies have vacancies to absorb just half.
Back in the 1960s, the majority who left Greece were blue collar or agricultural workers. “Now it’s different, of course the consequences are negative and much more serious,” he adds.
As Greece tackles a debt burden of close to 300 billion euros (US$390 billion), the trend for bright but disillusioned young Greeks to move abroad is likely to undermine long-term economic growth, warns a recent OECD report.
The study urges governments to invest in higher education, arguing that a better-educated workforce can boost jobs and increase tax revenues.