Against the Odds, Finding a Job in Greece

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published the epilogue to my story on Greek unemployment.

In July, for a cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek, I followed a 29-year-old Greek woman named Tina Stratigaki for a week as she searched for a job. Mostly, there was little to do. She showed me how she searched the job listings and how she applied for openings, but I also was able to join her for one of the nine interviews she’s managed to get since the contract for her previous posting expired at the beginning of the year. Some 2,000 applicants had turned out for 21 positions, sitting for an hour-long test and returning for an interview. For Stratigaki, the position was as ideal as they come in today’s Greece, a two-year contract as a social worker in a local government office. At the end of the interview, she was told that she would have an answer by the end of the month.

The end of July came and went without news.

Read the rest.

Taxibeat’s Nikos Drandakis on Launching a Startup Amid the Greek Crisis

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my interview with Taxibeat’s Nikos Drandakis.

What exactly does Taxibeat do?
Taxibeat is a mobile application that helps a consumer easily locate nearby taxis and choose the best available taxi based on the feedback that previous passengers have given. We introduce a reputation mechanism in the taxi industry, which is something that didn’t exist.

How did the drivers react to being rated?
When we launched, the crisis had already started in Athens. And most of the taxi drivers here had lost about 50 or 60 percent of their jobs. So they adopted us, because they hoped for new customers.

Taxibeat is cited as a rare Greek success story. Are you an outlier?
I tend to think of ourselves as starters of something new—not only us, but a small community of people in an ecosystem that is forming right now.

Read the rest.

Greece’s Unemployed Young: A Great Depression Steals the Nation’s Future

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my cover story on the Greek youth unemployment crisis.

Outside an unmarked green metal door in the hallway of a suburban Athens high school, Tina Stratigaki waits for a job interview. It’s a Tuesday in mid-July. Stratigaki, 29, applied for the job as a social worker weeks ago and had taken an hour-long test the Friday before. Based on the list of applicants posted on the wall outside the exam, she estimates there were some 2,000 candidates for 21 open positions. This is the last interview she’s likely to get before Greece shuts down for the summer holidays. Her unemployment benefits—about €360 ($475) a month from her previous job working with disadvantaged women and children—have just run out. “I’m a little bit stressed,” she says.

Jobs of any kind are scarce in today’s Greece. Nearly six years of deep recession have swept away a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, the kind of devastation usually seen only in times of war. In a country of 11 million people, the economy lost more than a million jobs as businesses shut their doors or shed staff. Unemployment has reached 27 percent—higher than the U.S. jobless rate during the Great Depression—and is expected to rise to 28 percent next year. Among the young, the figure is twice as high. Meanwhile, cuts to Greece’s bloated public sector are dumping ever more people onto the job market. In July, 25,000 public workers, including teachers, janitors, ministry employees, and municipal police, found out they would face large-scale reshuffling and possible dismissal. An additional 15,000 public workers are slated to lose their jobs by the end of 2014.

Read the rest.

Alexis Tsipras’s Conquest of Greece

My profile of the Greek radical leftist Alexis Tsipras was the European cover of Bloomberg Businessweek.

The headquarters of the Greek political party that could bring down the European economy lies in a rundown neighborhood in central Athens. Not far away in one direction, a municipal soup kitchen feeds the city’s rising number of poor. Around another corner, a medical charity caters to illegal immigrants and the newly uninsured. The décor inside party headquarters is similarly modest.

Neon tubes shine down on worn blue linoleum. The walls are streaked with age. The only room in the building with a fresh coat of paint is the office of the party’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, the 37-year-old radical leftist who has campaigned on renegotiating Greece’s debt deal. “Sometimes we have television cameras in there,” says Maria Kalyviotou, one of the chain-smoking young volunteers who man the party’s media operations. “That’s why we painted that room.”

Read the rest.


In Athens, Fear, Loathing, and Plenty of Parking

Bloomberg Businessweek just published my short take on the mood in Athens.

In Greece, the lighting of the Olympic torch is normally a moment in the sun, a reminder of the country’s contributions to Western civilization. As the torch began its journey from Athens to London, this year’s host city, dark rain clouds cast a pall over the proceedings. Many Greeks no doubt watched the torch’s departure and wondered if they shouldn’t follow.

Even when the sun breaks through in Athens these days, it shines on sparsely attended cafés, on beggars lying on sidewalks, and on a tourism industry that’s all but collapsed. So many locals have traded in their cars for bikes that it’s disturbingly easy to find a parking space. One in five Greeks is looking in vain for a job; among the young, it’s one in two. The failure of Greek political parties to form a government after the May 6 elections has deepened the gloom. “It’s like being on a ship in the middle of a storm,” says Giorgia, a 29-year-old civil servant who asked to be identified only by her first name to avoid trouble at work, “and there’s no captain.”

Read the rest.