As many of you know, half of Greeks under 25 who wish to be employed are unemployed; and general unemployment (official – still receiving Unemployment Benefits) is over 20%. [Edit March 8, 2012 to add: the official unemployment statistic for December, 2011 was released today. 21% of Greeks are unemployed, which is a new record.] That number of course doesn’t include people looking for work for the first time, people who are underemployed, the many, many Greeks who worked for employers who don’t insure them (and who are much, much more likely to be fired, because they have no protection from laws, unions, contracts, or anything else – this is particularly an issue in the construction and tourism industries), or the many Greek small and very small business owners whose businesses have closed; as far as the “true number” goes, it’s anyone’s guess.
Today, the government announced that the new Unemployment Benefit is 359 euros per month.
The explanation for the reduction was that, because the minimum wage and non-minimum wage scales were both reduced by 22%, it was only fair that unemployment be reduced by 22% as well. The logic was that if unemployment and minimum wage were the same, there would be no motivation for someone to look for work in an economy with 20%+ unemployment.
Although there was much discussion about making exceptions for some people who were in high ‘at-risk’ categories (like people with several children or whatever), ultimately they decided not to make any exceptions.
So, 359 euros…
It’s comforting to me to know that if S loses his job (they have agreed to fire 150,000 public sector workers in the next couple of years), with his unemployment, he could pay our rent and have nine whole euros left over for utilities and food! With that, we wouldn’t be able to have electricity or running water, but we could buy a gallon of whole milk (3.40), two kilos of white pasta (1.80), ten medium eggs (1.41), and five kilos of potatoes (2.40). Actually, I’d be one penny over, but I’m sure the supermarket would look the other way. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to cook the pasta or the potatoes. This is why a solar cooker is so important. It means eating on cold or overcast days would not be possible but, at least outside the winter months, most days are sunny enough to get a solar cooker to boil water, which is all you need for potatoes and pasta. Eggs can be eaten raw. You might say – what about fresh vegetables? You can pick edible weeds – although, living in the city, we’d have to walk at least an hour for those, and there’s no guarantee that you’d find any. They should be boiled as well, to be safe.
The foods listed above (milk, pasta, eggs, and potatoes) come to a total of 14,473 calories, or 241 calories per day for each of us. That’s about 10% of what we need to stay the same weight, but a good 25% of what we need to stay alive.
Without running water, and without money for water, and in a country with very low rainfall, you could collect water from a city fountain, a river, pond, lake, etc. If you live close to the sea, you could collect sea water and distill it using solar power alone.
(Of course, most unemployed people move in with relatives to stretch their money further. If your parents are living and can take you in, that’s an option; or maybe you have a sibling, cousin, aunt or uncle, or friend who has extra space and is willing to take you in. But it’s important to note that not everyone has that option – especially when so many people are out of work already.)
This is why it’s so important – while you have a job – to stockpile food, water, medicine, and household supplies. It’s good to have solar solutions for various things (cooking, water distillation) and know how to use them. It’s a good idea to learn how to use drugs and medical paraphenalia yourself so you don’t have to rely on doctors or hospitals if they’re not accessible to you at your income level. This is also why it’s so important not to have debt: most people agree that credit card debt is for suckers, but many people think a mortgage is ‘safe debt’ because laws are in place to prevent people from immediately losing their homes to foreclosure if they miss a few payments – but those laws are changing. In Greece, laws protecting struggling homeowners expired and were not renewed. Unemployed people with mortgages are at extreme risk of homelessness. I predict that we will see a new spike in homelessness in Greece with the expiration of foreclosure protection laws.
Do I think S will lose his job? It’s hard to say. I believe that he’s the best, of course (I’m his wife, after all) – and luckily his work superiors enthusiastically agree with this – one of his superiors told me that a teacher like S comes along “once in a lifetime.” But, and this is a really big ‘but,’ public sector firings have not been based – at any point – on productivity or the quality of a worker, but only on ‘horizontal’ criteria like ‘the birthdate of a worker.’ He works in a field – teaching – that can be eliminated if the government needs to cut expenses further. After all, a teacher in every classroom – and schools altogether – can be replaced by a television channel for each grade level, with the students staying home and only one teacher needed for each grade level and subject, for the entire country. (This is not my idea, by the way!)
And we don’t even have to go that far. It would only take the stroke of a pen to eliminate over half the teaching jobs in Greece by eliminating entire courses and fields from the curriculum. Who needs classes in health & physical education, art, music, environmental science & geology, advanced math, foreign languages, computers & technology, …. You get the idea. A school that only teaches Greek, basic math and science, history, and religion (lest the Church get upset) and sends the kids home by 11am – what a huge discount for the government!
Do I believe it will happen? No, I don’t. But I didn’t believe a lot of the other things that have already happened, so I eat humble pie and prepare for the worst. If you live in Greece, I urge you to consider doing the same. Remember: death is 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food (3 months if you sleep the whole time): secure your water and food security as soon as you are able to.