surviving the new unemployment

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.

You might also like:
Food storage tips
Food storage in Critical Greece
Greek frugal cooking, circa 1941
Water:  please just trust me on this one…
Frugality, eclipsed

more great ideas from the Troika

A look into Greek politics today…

Today I’m quoting parts from another article from this excellent news blog, which posts in Greek. I’m translating excerpts of this article into English here.

It deals with the most recent negotiations between the Greek coalition government and the Troika over the new €130 billion loan, specifically as regards implementing a new tax system.

According to information, at the negotiations between the Vice President / Minister of Finance Evangelos Venizelos and the leaders of the Troika, he was asked to set in motion immediately procedures to fire 10,000 workers from the wider public sector by the end of this March … from the army, hospitals, public banks, and about 50 quasi-governmental organizations, which must be shut down completely.

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that most of these organizations – especially hospitals – are already stretched very thin. Reducing their personnel even further won’t save money – it will only make these various organizations run even less efficiently – ultimately costing more money to the Greek taxpayer.

As far as a new taxation system is concerned, the Troika has asked the Finance Ministry to adopt the American tax system. Indicative of the climate in these negotiations is the fact that the Troika rejected out of hand the Finance Ministry’s thought of perhaps reducing VAT (sales tax) by 3-4 percentage points –

This was an idea that had been getting some play in the media over the last few days. In Greece, there are several sales tax rates. The vast majority of goods and services have an additional sales tax of 23% added on top. Grocery items that are not prepared (like dried beans, bottled water, dry pasta, uncooked potatoes) have a 13% sales tax. Hotel stays and medicines have a 6.5% sales tax. (There are a few other things in this reduced category as well, but it’s changed a number of times and I’m not too up on it – I believe that books and newspapers are in here also.)

Up until September 1, 2011, all food – including restaurant and prepared grocery – was taxed at the lower 13% rate. The increase this past September has been widely reported to be responsible for thousands of cafes and restaurants going out of business, and of course all the job loss that goes with that.

Up until January 1, 2011, the sales tax breakdown was 21% for goods, 11% for food, and 5% for medicine. That in turn was an increase from the 2010 and previous rate, of 19% on goods, 9% on food, and I believe 4.5% on medicine (but I’m not sure about that one).

The media has reported regularly that this steady increase in sales tax – which hits the consumer many times over, because it must be paid at all stages of production, packaging, shipping, and selling – is responsible for the flight of a vast sector of consumer spending in Greece over the past two years, and that that is responsible for a massive reduction in total sales tax revenue by the government.

-with the explanation that [by reducing the sales tax by 3-4 percentage points], there will be a drastic reduction in revenue, which could reach 2 to 2.5 billion euros per year. [The Troika] further requested that the low rate of 6.5% be eliminated, as well as all the exceptions that are in place in various locations around the country.

That last part affects where we lived in the past. When we lived on the island, we paid lower sales tax rates. The small islands have extraordinarily high prices, because the shops are very small, there are no chain supermarkets, and they have to import small amounts via ship.

We paid a few percentage points lower than the mainland – not enough to reduce the prices to mainland levels, by any means – but every little bit helps, I suppose. The island rates are in place for all the islands except the very large ones. Certainly on medium islands like Syros and Paros, it’s not really necessary to have lower sales tax. Those islands have large supermarkets and import reasonably large amounts of goods. But on the islands with only one or two mini markets on the whole island, with only a few hundred occupants, it can be very expensive to buy food. We usually paid €1.30 for a liter of milk. At the same time, on the mainland, milk was available for €0.83 per liter – including the higher sales tax. All purpose flour was €1.20 per kilo for the cheapest bulk flour, when on the mainland you could find it for €0.47, including the higher tax.

The new demands include:

-A new system of pension revenue collection and a reduction in pensions aside from the basic pension.

Pensions are already quite low in Greece. With the introduction of a new high property tax, many retired people aren’t able to meet basic obligations, and could find themselves in prison for debt to the public sector, or homeless.

-The opening of all professions

As it is now, many professions in Greece require their practictioners to be specially licensed in those professions in order to practice them. “Opening” these professions removes this barrier. These controls are largely responsible for the face of the Greek economy today: pharmacies are small stand-alone pharmacies of the kind that disappeared from American neighborhoods decades ago; tiny mini-markets called periptera sell cigarettes, newspapers, phone cards, and other convenience-store items. If these items are allowed to be sold in supermarkets, potentially tens of thousands of small and very small businesses will close.

While having these items available at supermarkets would make shopping slightly more convenient, it will also mean waves of strikes – threats to “closed professions” have caused many and massive strikes since 2010.  Having pharmacies closed for weeks causes a lot of problems, but the worst was in the summer of 2010, when the gasoline delivery system went on strike:  truckers who deliver gasoline to gas stations stopped running.  Quickly, police cars had no gas; ambulances had no gas; public buses had no gas, and so on.  This causes a ripple affect in society.  When doctors can’t get to the hospital, teachers can’t get to school, society starts to suffer in many unpredictable ways.

It may be a necessary transition to go from a protectivist local economy to an open economy run by large multinational corporations, which is what Germany and France would prefer us to have, but it will be very painful both for the owners and employees of medium, small, and very small businesses, and for everyone living inside Greece.

-Stricter controls on the public sector hiring policy of “1 hire for every 5 fired/retired” and a program of personnel reduction, to achieve the goal of 150,000 fewer workers by 2015.

Luckily for us, S has already been hired, so doesn’t come under the “1 hire for every 5 fires” rule. However, we certainly don’t want him to be one of the 150,000 public sector workers forced out in the next three years.

In the school where S works, which has 400 students, there are supposed to be two school secretaries.  However, school secretaries are no longer considered necessary, so S, as the newest teacher in the school, got stuck with most of the secretarial duties that used to be spread between two full-time trained secretaries.  On top of teaching every last one of the 400 students in the school, and the extracurricular activities, and all the regular extra duties that all the teachers have, he also has hours and hours of bureaucratic and secretarial labor for which he receives no extra money, and in fact his salary has been reduced by 56% in only five months.

home in Greece: staying sane and surviving through trying times

Heron on the lake by our town.

Does the world really need another home-oriented blog?  Does the world really need to hear yet another spin on frugal living, decor, recipes, and the like?  Those questions kept me from starting this blog for a long time.  But I have never come across another blog – at least in English – that deals with all those lovely topics, while also trying to survive the Greek Economic Crisis from the inside.

I’m Heidi.  30 years old, married, no kids, from USA.  My Greek husband and I live in Greece, and the economic crisis that you hear about on the news has affected our lives deeply and even brutally, but we are determined to survive, thrive, and maybe even inspire others to see the positives when the world seems determined to sink you.

Greece has become just a ‘bad news item’ anymore to most of the world, but for us, it is home and family.  We are preparing for the worst and enjoying the best that each day has to offer.  I hope the content of this blog touches and inspires someone out there in the world.