ATHENS, Greece– Rarely considered is the potential for poverty within the developed world, but the possibility exists for even a well-developed economy to suffer extreme recessions and ultimately result in widespread poverty. Following the 2008 recession, most economies worldwide suffered on some level. Among the most devastated countries has been Greece.
Though it has been a long six years, the recession lingers throughout Greece as citizens struggle to maintain a semblance of the prosperity they once enjoyed on a continent that boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world. Every facet of Greek life has been diminished or destroyed following the recession.
The mainstream response to the on-going crisis has been austerity practices, that is, a method of economic recovery that emphasizes large-scale budget cuts and increased taxes. Austerity encourages a reduction in social welfare and an extremely liberalized economy in order to lower budget deficits and promote investments. What is not sufficiently considered, however, is the reliance placed on welfare and the need for a strong social safety net in order to promote an equally strong working class.
Austerity in Greece has led to crippling unemployment, massive social backlash, political uprisings, xenophobia, an increase in suicide rates and rising panic among the citizenry. The manner in which Greece continues to suffer under austerity indicates the possible future of many recession-stricken countries including Spain, Ireland, Italy and Portugal. The future economic security for many suffering nations is dependent on its citizens understanding the harsh reality of austerity and how it greatly deteriorates political and fiscal sovereignty while simultaneously weakening the working class.
Ameliorating poverty, whether in Greece or around the world, is dependent on promoting a strong, educated and secure working class that is able to efficiently support itself and contribute to the local and national economy. Austerity as the mainstream response to budget crises has shown to facilitate a weaker working class, thereby diminishing the purchasing power of citizens as well as greatly reducing both labor forces and available markets. In 2011, over 3 million people were at risk of poverty and homelessness, and suicide rates have risen by a third since 2010. As of 2013, Greek unemployment stood at 27.7 percent among adults aged 18-27.
A diminished working class is not the only thing that suffers under austerity. Once ranked 14th in the world for health care, Greek hospitals now lack basic amenities like needles, gloves, IV bags and a sufficient staff. Hospital admissions have increased by 25 percent though $9 billion has been cut in health care spending.
A major catalyst for the crisis in Greece has been social and political corruption. Ranked as the most corrupt nation in Europe, Greece has seen its fair share of money simply disappearing. While nationalized programs continue to be slashed for the sake of savings, those savings have yet to be adequately distributed to those most in need.
Though Greece faces many challenges in promoting a fair and equitable system, nationalized programs and government assistance should not be taken as collateral in the meantime. Alternatives to austerity in Greece have been voiced by Greece’s most popular secondary party, Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras, who has called for “stopping austerity, renegotiating loan agreements, halting wage and pension cuts, restoring the minimum wage and implementing a type of Marshall Plan-like investment drive.”
The fight against poverty is best performed when spearheaded by a strong labor force that is self-sufficient, politically active and monetarily secure. Without security, people are less likely to invest, and without investments, money is not exchanged. Promoting economic growth is a fundamental aspect of poverty reduction, and growth is best facilitated when the working class is kept in highest regard. Greece will most likely continue to suffer as long as austerity reigns supreme and the working class is left to fend for itself in an increasingly hostile environment.