Even as signs of an economic recovery emerge in the euro zone, the human cost of the five-year downturn continues to rise. For tens of millions of Europeans, the comeback from nearly five years of economic privation and Depression-scale joblessness will not be easy. A growing number of people, in Greece and other battered euro zone economies, are caught in the trap of long-term unemployment, drained of savings and living on the economic and social edge.
Greece, of course, has been hit the hardest: Its unemployment rate stills hovers above 27 percent. But the social challenges are not its alone. In the 28-nation European Union, 25.9 million people remain jobless, out of a potential labor force of about 244 million. Data released last week showed no change in the euro zone’s 11.9 percent unemployment rate in February. Spain’s jobless figure was 25.6 percent, and Italy’s was 13 percent, a new high.
Now, in a cascade of recent reports, the European Commission, research institutes and economists are warning that rising long-term joblessness and declining incomes are straining government safety nets and swelling the ranks of people excluded from the labor market and mainstream society.
“There is a silent crisis in which a growing number of people are being left behind,” said Jens Bastian, an economist who was a member of the European Commission’s task force for Greece until this year. “People who one or two years ago thought the financial crisis was something that happened only to others are themselves out of a job, or increasingly pushed to the margins.”