After writing about the tragedy of Greek austerity for more than a year, I've love to (finally) have some good news to share. But when it comes to austerity, the news is never good. In Greece, the news is bad and getting worse.
The latest news is that Greece's economy is still shrinking. In fact, the Greek economy just posted its 20th consecutive decline, shrinking 4.6 percent in the three months through June – for a grand total of 20 percent shrinkage since January 2008. The only good news is that economists predicted a shrinkage rate of 5 percent.
For millions of Greeks bearing up under six years of austerity measures, and an economy stuck in recession because of those austerity measures, that the economy shrank slightly less than predicted is nothing to cheer about. The impact of austerity on ordinary Greek citizens is the real tragedy.
- Greek unemployment hit a record high of 27.6 percent in May. That's an increase from an unemployment rate of 23.8 percent in May of last year. The unemployment rate for Greek youth – ages 15 to 24 – is 64.9 percent.
- A homelessness crisis has erupted in Greece. Since 2009, the number of Greek homeless has grown from 7,720 to over 20,000.
- Nearly a quarter of Greek workers and pensioners are living below the poverty level. The Greek Finance Ministry reported last month that 23 percent of the country's pensioners and employees lives under the poverty level last year. No doubt a 20 percent cut in minimum wage played a role in that statistic.
- Greek families are facing a food crisis, as food banks and soup kitchens strain under austerity. Up to 90% of families in the poorest areas of the country are dependent on charity – food banks and soup kitchens – to keep them this side of hunger. But as the Orthodox church, among other charities, are scale back operations as is their tradition in August, Greek families face the prospect of going hungry.
- The Greek health care system now relies on volunteers and donations. Already brought to its knees by $12 billion in austerity-driven cuts to public health spending, Greece's formerly government-sponsored health insurance – that once provided universal coverage – now depends on volunteer networks of doctors and medical professionals who work for nothing. Not only did austerity cut funding to hospitals and clinics, but austerity measures also demanded that those unemployed for a year or more were ineligible for health benefits. As a result, medical professional who treat patients who would otherwise die or have to pay out of pocket for things like cancer treatment are essentially breaking the law.
- Greece's child labor crisis is getting out of hand. There are about 100,000 children estimated to be working illegally in Greece. The estimate is another sign of the toll taken by Greek austerity measures. Most are children whose parents are unemployed, and often without health insurance. The work they do is undocumented, and more likely to consist of low wages and unsafe conditions. Those numbers are likely fed by the growing number of Greek students dropping out of school – some 70,000 in 2012 – as many likely took to work to help feed their families.
Meanwhile, Greece's super-rich have maintain lavish lifestyles, and over half of Greek businesses are cheating on their taxes. No wonder a majority of Greeks say the austerity measures are unfair. Clearly, Greece's austerity/bailout scenario isn't working. Now that the Greek government is posting a primary surplus, largely on suffering of ordinary Greeks, perhaps it's time to consider the unthinkable, and default.