Europe’s Unemployment Hits a new High

By PAN PYLAS | AP | JULY 2, 2012

Unemployment in the 17-country euro currency bloc hit another record in May as the continent teetered on the edge of recession because of its crippling financial crisis, official figures showed Monday.

Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, said unemployment rose to 11.1 percent in May from 11 percent the previous month. May’s rate was the highest since the euro was launched in 1999 and adds further urgency to the eurozone countries’ plan to create economic growth and cut excessive government debt.

At a summit last Friday, eurozone leaders agreed a set of short- and long-term measures to shore up the euro and unveiled a limited economic growth package. Markets have responded positively with a stock market rally which, if sustained, should help buoy economic confidence in the eurozone – a key step to easing the crisis.

May’s unemployment rate compares badly with an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent in the United States and only 4.4 percent in Japan, and is expected to rise further in the coming months as the eurozone economy teeters on the edge of recession.

“With the eurozone likely having suffered appreciable GDP contraction in the second quarter and in grave danger of contracting again in the third, and with eurozone business confidence generally low and fragile, the likelihood is that the eurozone unemployment rate will move significantly higher over the coming months,” said Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight.

In total, 17.6 million people were out of work in the eurozone in May, 1.8 million higher than a year earlier.

Unemployment has been edging higher for over a year as concerns over the debt crisis and the future of the euro currency have weighed on economic activity. Businesses have been cutting jobs or delaying hiring as confidence in the economy waned, while many governments have pursued austerity programs, including big job reductions in the public sector.

There are huge disparities across the eurozone, however.

The labor markets of those countries at the front line of the debt crisis, such as Greece and Spain, are suffering most due to their governments’ stringent austerity measures and deep recessions. The highest unemployment rate across the eurozone was recorded in Spain, where 24.6 percent of people were out of work in May. Even more dramatically, 52.1 percent of the country’s youth were unemployed.

Other countries in the eurozone, particularly those in the north, are faring better. Germany’s unemployment rate stood at only 5.6 percent. However, a raft of economic indicators in recent weeks have shown that Europe’s biggest economy is not immune to the problems in the rest of the region. Germany’s exports to other countries in the eurozone are under pressure and business confidence is waning.

Across the wider 27-country European Union, which includes non-euro countries such as Britain and Poland, unemployment edged up to 10.3 percent in May from 10.2 percent the month before.

Greeks Going Back to their Farming Roots

by Tania Georgiopoulou
ekathimerini.com
September 1, 2011

«Here you can go a week without spending a single euro over here,” says a man who moved back to Crete two years ago to live in the village of his birth. “You get fresh food from your farm and if you need something extra, like olive oil for example, you can get it from a fellow farmer. You only need money to pay for your gas and bills,” he says.

He is not alone. For the first time in years, Amari Valley in the island’s Rethymno district has turned green again as fields have been cleared and put back to use as farms.

Recent data on farming in Greece show that the number of jobs in the sector has gone up by 38,000 between 2008 and 2010. This increase is in stark contrast to the grim statistics regarding rising unemployment across most other sectors.

However, a closer examination of the data shows that these born-again farmers are for the most part pensioners trying to make some extra money — particularly by cutting down on their cost of living. Between 22 and 32 percent of those who have taken up farming in the past couple of years are aged between 45 and 64 years old. Some 70 percent of the latecomers in the Epirus region in northern Greece are over 65.

Giorgos Christonakis, a former employee at Hellenic Petroleum, lives between Athens and Amari. “After I retired, I went to look for a house in the village. I have since planted vegetables, I have my own olive trees and I plan to grow wheat so I can make my own bread,” he says. His children, he says, are not too keen on moving to Crete, so he has to travel between places. “But if the state breaks down and I end up losing my pension, what will happen then? At least we will have an alternative; we won’t starve to death.”

A friend of his, 60-year-old Pandelis Zoumboulakis, grows beans and tomatoes in that same valley. Zoumboulakis, a former municipal employee, retired two years ago but has yet to receive his first pension payment. His housing loan installment cannot wait, however. “I get an 800-euro advance on my pension each month. We are lucky my mother chips in to help,” he says.

His children are now independent, and the couple have returned to their family home in Crete to work the land. “We’re not doing it for the money; but at least we know what goes into our stomachs,” he says. “More and more people are coming back to the village to do the same,” Zoumboulakis says. His cousins from Athens recently visited the island to plant some trees. “When they retire in a few years, they plan to move here too,” he says.

On the island of Chios, the collection of mastic from gum trees, an age-old tradition, is experiencing a revival and production last year rose by 20 percent.

Lefteris Karakatsanis, 74, migrated to Germany in 1963 before trying his luck in the United States. In 1994, after he retiremed, he returned to Chios to live with his wife. In the early years, his pension was enough to afford them a decent life. As the euro rose against the dollar, it became harder for them to get by. “At least I make some mastic and we manage to earn some extra money,” he says.

“Mastic is a very good product,” says Giorgos Avdeliodis, 57, who used to work for the Public Power Corporation (PPC). He cultivates mastic trees, but also breeds animals. “Goats, chicken, pigs — mostly for our own consumption,” he says.

For many people on Chios, mastic collection is for pocket money, says Christos Koukouris, a retired naval officer and member of the island’s mastic production board. “But it’s still a tough job.”