Here is the real economic crisis

Too little attention for this, way too little..

Europe’s lost generation: how it feels to be young and struggling in the EU

Viola Caon left her Italian home to find work. Now she returns to see how her former classmates are faring… and in the week that shocking figures showed how badly Europe’s youth is being hit by the unemployment crisis, we also talk to hard-hit twentysomethings in Athens and Madrid

in Civita Castellana,

The classmates of Civita Castellani

Left to right, the classmates of Civita Castellani: Martina Rossitto, Viola Caon, Maria Francesca Zozzi, Elisa Di Pietro Paolo, Michele Stentella, Michela Moretti and Elena Cirioni. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/For The Observer

Maybe being young is never easy. But being a twentysomething young European has rarely been more stressful.

More than a quarter (28%) of Italians between 16 and 24 are unemployed. Others are struggling to get by on unpaid internships or poorly paid jobs with little security.

Italy‘s new prime minister, Mario Monti, has vowed to help the younger generation, promising among other things to help them start businesses, but as austerity bites deep the future is uncertain, even terrifying, for many.

It’s not just Italy, of course. Eurozone unemployment is at a record. According to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, 16.3 million people are out of work in the 17 countries that joined the euro. The story of a lost generation is becoming the scandal of a continent. In Spain, 51.4% of those aged 16-24 are jobless. In Greece, the figure is 43%.

As the eurozone crisis worsened, I went back to my hometown of Civita Castellana, 65 kilometres north of Rome, to meet my classmates from the Giuseppe Colasanti high school. Michela, Maria, Elena, Elisa, Michele, Martina and I were in the class of 2005.

When Monti announced his €30bn austerity package, he said: “Sacrifice will be required.” In Civita, those sacrifices are being made. It is one of the largest industrial centres in the region. Since the end of the second world war, about 90% of people been employed making bathroom fittings and crockery, for which Civita is renowned. What everyone now calls “the crisis” arrived here earlier than elsewhere, as the town suffered the consequences of globalisation and competition with China, where similar products were being made more cheaply. Many factories have closed; thousands are out of work.

The debt crisis that began in 2008 means redundancy hangs over many of those who have kept jobs. Then there are the young. Getting a foot on the ladder has never been simple in Italy, where who you know is often key. But with the country facing austerity for the foreseeable future, and eurozone GDP as a whole predicted to shrink by 0.5% in 2012, the outlook is bleak.

So meeting my schoolmates again was quite an experience. My decision six months ago to live and work in London was partly to do with the economy. But how had my schoolmates been getting on?

Martina Rossitto, 26, MA student, human biology

“I am doing a traineeship at the laboratory for cystic fibrosis of Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome. I was lucky, as they do serious research there. I got the place because I know one of the doctors in the lab. I am not getting paid, not even expenses. However, I consider myself to be privileged, as most of my university mates are working 12 hours a day and don’t even have access to basic research tools. In Italy, choosing to work as a researcher is suicide. The government keeps cutting the funds.”

Maria Francesca Zozi, 26, MA student, arts

“I am usually told I will be a useless graduate. I find it unbelievable: governments keep investing in other sectors and they cut on arts and education. It is simply ridiculous. The problem is that the public sector – which includes most of our arts heritage – is corrupt and inefficient. I have a lot of projects in mind, I would like to attend a course at Brera Academy of Arts in Milan, but I really cannot afford it. I would leave the country if it weren’t for my boyfriend, who says we have to stay and fight for a better future.”

Elisa Di Pietro Paolo, 25, unemployed shop assistant

“I looked for a job as soon as I left high school six years ago. I found one as a shop assistant in Rome, on a short-term contract. My employers used to renew every year, until one day they didn’t. They fired a girl who had worked for them for five years because she took sick leave for pneumonia. Since last January I have been unemployed and doing occasional jobs: for a holiday camp, leafleting, and now for a non-profit thing. The problem is that, having worked as a trainee, employers must hire me on a proper contract, and it’s not convenient to them.”

Michele Stentella, 26, DJ and student in political science

“I have been DJing for years. Besides doing some nights in a major club in Rome, I have also started to work as a producer. If things go well, I might also sign with an important label. But the crisis has struck in my area, too. More and more clubs are closing. People cannot afford to spend much money and we all feel the pinch at the end of the month. I have a registered logo, and four guys who work with me. I really hope I can keep doing this job. Meanwhile, I study and maybe a BA degree will turn out to be useful some day.”

Michela Moretti, 25, trainee lawyer

“I have just graduated in law and I started a traineeship in a law firm near my hometown, Viterbo. Of course, they are not even paying me expenses. The only people I know who are getting paid during their traineeship are lawyers’ children. They go to their parents’ law firm and they get paid. With Monti’s talk about liberalising the professions, everything is still more unclear for us. They’re even talking about getting rid of the traineeship. It’s going to be very confusing.”

Elena Cirioni, 25, trainee radio journalist

“I did a two-year internship for a local FM radio which never even paid me the expenses. Fortunately, I got another opportunity with a private web radio station which is paying me the expenses and is helping me obtain a journalist’s licence. I work 15 to 20 hours a week and I get paid €200 a month. My dream was to become a theatre actress and I am still hoping to fulfill this Athensambition at some point. The problem is that the culture industry is eternally in crisis in Italy, and there isn’t the money for new actors.”


Christos Xeraxoudis, Evangelia Hadzichristofi and Giorgos Dimas Left to right, Christos Xeraxoudis, Evangelia Hadzichristofi and Giorgos Dimas Photograph: Milos Bicanski For The Observer

The greatest victims of Greece’s economic crisis have been its youth, men and women who never knew the boom times but must now bear the brunt of one of Europe‘s harshest austerity programmes.

With unemployment at a record as the debt-choked country endures a fifth consecutive year of recession, nearly 44% of the 907,953 out of work are between 15 and 24. For the first time since the 1960s, the jobless rate has nudged 18.5%, according to data released by the national statistics office in November. Four out of 10 without work are young people, although three months later, with ever more businesses closing, the figures are undoubtedly worse.

Lack of job prospects and the absence of vocational training to redirect the newly unemployed, fears of impending economic collapse and warnings that it may take 10 years before the service-oriented economy even begins to recover have spurred many of the brightest and best to look abroad. The exodus has sparked a brain drain that could have a devastating effect on the country’s future growth. Tens of thousands of young Greeks are believed to have moved overseas in the last two years. Almost always from part of the educated elite, they have gone to other European countries and as far as Australia.

An 800-seat Australian “skills expo” in Athens in October attracted 13,000 applicants. Community leaders in Melbourne, focus of a similar Greek migration in the 1950s and 1960s, have been flooded by requests from Greek graduates.

Christos Xeraxoudis, 24, unemployed chef

“I’m a trained chef and have been looking for work for months. I’ve sent my CV to hotels and restaurants all over Greece, but out of the 50 or applications that I’ve made I only got an answer once. Lately I’ve looked for jobs in the UK, Germany and Switzerland, where I happen to have relatives, but I’ve had no response. But I am optimistic. Greece needed to change. It needs to be rebuilt from the beginning. It has so much going for it but somehow had lost its way. After all, we had got to the point where we were importing lemons from Argentina.”

Evangelia Hadzichristofi, 26, unemployed interior designer

“I’ve been out of work for the last year. It’s hard. I’m an interior designer and our industry has been very badly hit. I had an internship at the Benaki Museum [in Athens], but then they let me go and it’s been impossible to find a job since. I’ve looked for work as a secretary, receptionist, shop assistant and the answer has always been ‘no’. It’s got to the point where I am counting every cent and have to rely on my father, who is in difficulty himself with his own business. I’ve just applied for jobs in England and Amsterdam because at least there is always overseas.”

Giorgos Dimas, 25, working as a chef

“I was unemployed for three years until last week when I finally found a job as a chef. I went back to school to train as a cook, and I’ve been learning English but it’s been really difficult. At the back of my mind there is always the thought that the restaurant I’m about to work in might go bust, given that no one has any money any more. But although it might take a few years for my generation to find work I actually think the crisis has been a good thing. Greece was all about jobs for civil servants and nothing else. It had to change.”

Report by Helena Smith Athens


Eduardo Caña, Marita Blázquez, Adriano Justicia, María Lázaro Left to right, Eduardo Caña, Marita Blázquez, Adriano Justicia and María Lázaro. Photograph: Erik Molgora For The Observer

Now is not the time to be a twentysomething in Spain. According to figures last week, 51.4% of 16-24 year-olds are now without work, as the total unemployment count passed the 5 million barrier.

This has often been called the best-educated generation in Spain. It is also the one which has the direst prospects. Even if they are lucky enough to get a job, most of them – around 60% – have to live on low salaries with little job security. The usual best options are internships or temporary contracts that allow the employer to fire them without difficulty. The situation is now critical, as indicated by prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s plea last week to Brussels. He demanded greater “realism” from Brussels over Spain’s attempts to cut its deficit. Austerity is sending Spain back into recession and the danger is that a generation is to be sacrificed as a result.

About a decade ago, a new term was coined to describe young people who earned €1,000 a month – the mileuristas. Now things are so bad that this disparaging term describes an unattainable aspiration for most.

Eduardo Caña, 23, student

“I am studying journalism and economics and I’ve done all sort of low-paid jobs: serving beers in Valencia beach bars, working in construction in Galicia, unloading fruit trucks and filling customers’ bags in Ikea. I’ve never been paid more than €7 an hour. I also worked as an intern for a newspaper, almost for free. This friend of mine was working on a paper for less than €400 a month. Her temporary contract expired and they called to offer me the same job but as an unpaid intern. I found that so offensive. I am finishing school next June and if nothing comes up I am thinking about moving abroad.”

Marita Blázquez, 25, student

“I’ve found it impossible to get a job in my own field. In my hometown of Granada, I worked as a monitor in a shopping mall kids’ play area and that’s the closest I’ve got to working with kids, which has been my goal since I started studying. I came to Madrid but all I could get were two part-time jobs, first at a department store and then in a clothes shop, where they hired me as a clerk with an illegal contract making €3 an hour. When I asked for better conditions my boss fired me. I started studying again to become a teacher. But only a few posts are open every year so I have no idea what I am doing next.”

Adriano Justicia, 27, unemployed photographer

“I am a photographer and also hold a film studies degree, but never could find a job in any of those areas. I’ve worked as a telemarketer, in credit card sales and also a Red Cross charity recruiter for not much money at all. I just went back to study for a degree in TV production, which includes unpaid training. If I don’t get a job after that, I think I will be forced to move back to Berlin, where I spent a couple of months as an intern for a photographic studio. Given the circumstances, that looks like the best option, although it is always difficult to leave your country.”

María Lázaro, 25, jobless tour and advertisement agent

“I came to Madrid to work as a manager for Real Madrid’s museum. I worked at Santiago Bernabéu stadium museum for two years until I was fired six months ago. Since then I’ve been working in temporary jobs, three or five days as a hostess in business conventions and fairs, most of them without any kind of contract. My partner works as a graphic designer and he has just been offered a job in Zaragoza, so we are probably moving there. I just got admitted back into school, where I am hoping to do a masters degree, to see if that helps me finally to get a job.”

Report by Diego Salazar Madrid