Social partners try to tackle high youth unemployment

Youth unemployment has risen to disturbingly high levels in Greece. Labour market entry has become extremely difficult for the thousands of young people leaving school and university because the continuing economic crisis has forced many enterprises to close or suspend operations, and job cuts in the public sector are still underway. Data from the Labour Force Survey show that half of those aged 29 and under are out of work, compared to 15% in 2008, and half of this group have never had a job.

Youth unemployment phenomenon

The economic crisis has forced many of Greece’s private sector enterprises to close or suspend operations. There have also been employment cuts in the public sector. This means that there is a rising youth unemployment problem in Greece, as young people are leaving school and university to find there is a lack of employment opportunities. Half of those aged 29 or under do not have a job, and this age group makes up one in three of all unemployed workers. Around half of this group have never had a job, and just over half have been out of work for more than a year.

Latest unemployment data

Labour Force Survey (ELSTAT) data shows that unemployment in Greece has increased at a volatile rate, reaching 27.1% in 2013 (1,350,435 people had no job in the second quarter of 2013) compared with 7.2% in 2008 (397,080 people). Unemployment has risen steadily and dramatically over the last four years: in 2010 it was 12.5%, rising to 17.7% in 2011 and 24.4% in 2012.

The Institute of Labour (INE/GSEE) estimates that unemployment will reach between 30% and 31% (1,525,000 people) in 2014. Available data, however, do not accurately represent the actual size of the unemployment problem. Figures for ‘covered unemployment’ in the agricultural sector and latent unemployment across the entire economy are not included, and anyone who worked for just one hour during the week before the Labour Force Survey is considered to be employed.

The survey also does not record underemployment, seasonal unemployment, the number of young people serving in the military as part of their national service obligation, or employment in the underground economy.

There are estimated to be 700,000 undeclared, uninsured salaried workers in Greece, four out of every ten workers, resulting in €3.5 billion of lost social contributions and €7.5 billion lost to the social security fund. This figure includes 300,000 ‘pseudo’ self-employed who, in fact, do provide salaried services, and 200,000 ‘part-time’ workers who actually work full-time.

Youth and unemployment

ELSTAT data from the second quarter of 2013 (Table 1) show that unemployment among young people under the age of 29 is increasingly common. In 2013, 433,834 people aged 29 and under (49.4%) were out of work, compared to 156,095 (15.5%) in 2008.

Young people make up around a third (32.1%) of all the unemployed, compared to 43.7% in 2008. The percentage point reduction has been caused by the dramatic rise in unemployment among the over-30s. For comparison, recent European data show that across the 28 Member States of the EU, 21% of all unemployed are under 25 years old, and in Eurozone countries, 18.3% are under 25.

Table 1: Youth unemployment, 2013
Age group Total Employed in the past Entering labour market for the first time Long-term unemployed (>12 months)






















Total unemployed

(all age groups)





Source: General Secretariat of ELSTAT, Labour Force Survey 2013 (second quarter).

Data processing: INE/GSEE (G. Kritikidis).

As regards youth unemployment by gender, young women show the highest percentages of unemployment during 2013 (212,940 persons or 53.6%; 2008: 90,614, or 20.7%). In contrast, the number of unemployed men amounts to 2013 220,895 or 46% (2008 65,481, or 11.5%).

Based on the currently available data, young men and women aged 20–24 make up the largest percentage of unemployed although, in terms of numbers, most unemployed people are aged 25–29 (in 2013,the figure for total number of unemployed young people was 255,234, or 44.4%; in 2008 it was 84,313 or 12.8%).

Also, while in 2008 the number of unemployed people aged 20–24 was 59,082 (19.7%), this increased to 148,782 (57%) within a five-year period (2013). Furthermore, out of Greece’s 1,350,435 unemployed, 310,200 (23%) are ‘new unemployed’, a category that includes all those who have never worked before. Most this category are aged 29 and under (224,020, or 72.2% of all new unemployed).

The percentage of unemployed persons receiving allowances or financial assistance is lower than in many other EU Member States. Eurostat data for January 2014 show that 110,000 unemployed people were receiving unemployment allowances (€360 a month for a maximum of 12 months) compared to the 1,376,000 people registered as unemployed in the third quarter of 2013.

The official data reveal that unemployment, although still high among young men and women under 29 (in 2013 it was 433,832, or 49.4% of this group; in 2008 it was 156,097, or 15.5%), is worse among older groups. In 2013, the total of over-29s out of work was 916,604, or 22.3% of the total workforce; in 2008 it was 201,047, or 5.1%).

Among the over-29s, of the 715,557 people who became unemployed between 2008 and 2013, 665,042 (93%) were fired from their jobs; among those aged 29 and under, only 148,371 (53.4% of the age group) had worked in the past and had lost their job. The differences between the two age groups are obvious.

Unemployment and education

The current ELSTAT data show that one out of every three unemployed aged 29 or under is university-educated or graduated from a higher technical education institute, and a further third completed secondary education.

Table 2 shows that those aged 29 and under who had completed secondary education make up the largest single category of unemployed in this age group (175,790 in 2013, compared to 59,894 in 2008). However, the combined total of those who had completed all types of tertiary education and were out of work was higher, 70,462 in 2008 and 191,875 in 2013.

Unemployed men aged 15–29 (65,480 in 2008 and 220,894 in 2013) are more affected by unemployment than women in the same age group (90,616 in 2008 and 212,942 in 2013).

More women who have completed tertiary education are unemployed (46,860 in 2008; 118,956 in 2013) than men (23,601 in 2008; 72,919 in 2013). However, more unemployed secondary education graduates are men (101,997 in 2013, 28,871 in 2008) than women (73,794 in 2013, 31,023 in 2008).

Table 2: Unemployed people aged 15–29 per gender and educational level, 2008–2013.

Educational level




PhD or postgraduate degree




University graduate




Graduate of higher technical education institute




(Totals for tertiary education)




Secondary education graduate




Junior high school graduate




Primary education graduate




Some primary grades




No school




Total unemployed men aged 15–29





Educational level




PhD or postgraduate degree




University graduate




Graduate of higher technical education institute




(Totals for tertiary education)




Secondary education graduate




Junior high school graduate




Primary education graduate




Some primary grades




No school




Total unemployed women aged 15–29




Source: General Secretariat of ELSTAT, Labour Force Survey 2008, 2013 (second quarter).

Data processing: INE/GSEE (G. Kritikidis).

Measures to address youth unemployment

The social partners have proposed measures to encourage youth employment, specific to each region. Youth unemployment is a priority in all activities of the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) which has repeatedly drawn attention to the exclusion of the young from the labour market, pointing out that the social consequences will be significant. The most conservative estimates suggest that such large-scale youth employment will cost 2% of Greece’s gross domestic product.

The Youth Secretariat of the GSEE has suggested the following measures.

  • An alternative policy of job development directly linked to the creation of long-term, viable jobs providing decent employment conditions and wages.
  • Coordinated action, national initiatives and reinforcement of active employment policies.
  • Development of entrepreneurship and innovation, based on a broader national strategic plan for the country’s production model; structural extension of the labour market and a healthy business environment to create more jobs and restructure the technical and innovation basis of Greek industry.
  • National financial and educational policies that support the country’s new production model.
  • A ‘youth guarantee’ giving each young person the right to a job or further education or training within four months of completing their studies or losing their job, based on similar schemes established in other EU countries.

The Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) put forward its ‘Together at the Startline!’ initiative in October 2013. It encourages young scientists to go into business, supporting those who have innovative ideas and are interested in exploiting them commercially. The scheme offers integrated support services such as start-up premises, continuing education, consultant expertise, networking and mentoring by successful high-ranking business people.

The Labour Experience Acquisition Programme, financed by EU funds, will help 10,000 young graduates of universities/higher technical education institutes up to the age of 29 who have no previous work experience.

Several organisations, including trade unions, associations, political youth organisations, have also made proposals to tackle youth unemployment. They include the following suggestions.

  • Young people looking for their first job and graduates at all educational levels should be classed as unemployed and entitled to unemployment benefits if they can’t find a job within a set period.
  • How social policies affect the unemployed, such as health services, free transportation, entertainment and so on, should be reviewed and changes made.
  • Legislation to control the exploitation of child labour should be tightened.
  • For those still at school and in tertiary education, a six-hour maximum working day should be set with no cut in wages.
  • Supportive social centres should be piloted to ‘de-victimise’ workers, unemployed and young people; in many cases, the problems they face make them feel marginalised and this may lead to antisocial behaviour.
  • Finally, ways must be found to give workers, especially the young, a voice through the establishment of permanent committees for the unemployed, for atypical and underage workers and for unemployed scientists.

Elena Kousta, Labour Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Workers

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