Greeks Feeling (a little) More Confident

ATHENS – Four years into a crushing economic crisis and seven years into a deep recession that have combined to cut disposable income in half for most Greeks, more of them are feeling a little better about spending what they have left.

The consumer confidence index showed a jump in Greece in the first quarter of the year, according to a survey conducted by Nielsen in 60 countries. Compared with the last quarter of 2013, the index has risen by as much as eight points to reach 53, which is the highest reading of the last four years.

That was when a previous government sought international bailouts that came with attached austerity measures that created record unemployment and deep poverty, the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings decimating consumer spending and leading to the closing of scores of thousands of stores.

The rise of the index, said Nielsen Greece Managing Director Vicky Grigoriadou, “likely reflects the optimism of consumers deriving from two facts: The emergence of a primary budget surplus beyond expectations that allows the government to offer a benefit to the social groups worst hit by the crisis, and the return of Greece to the international bond markets for the first time after four years.”

Despite the rise in confidence, job security remains the top concern for 52 percent of respondents.

Workers have had their pay cut 30 percent and more, retirement lump sums slashed 38 percent and more and seen their annual two month bonuses eliminated (except for Parliament workers who were exempted and still get four months bonuses).

To offset that, just ahead of critical elections this month for municipalities and the European Parliament, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is sending some of them, primarily his New Democracy Conservative party’s core constituency of police, military and emergency personnel workers, a one-time 500-euro ($693.52) social dividend.

Many austerity victims have been shut out, however, including pensioners with incomes as low as 430 euros ($596.20) per month before taxes, who have found they are being declared ineligible while other workers with incomes three times or more are getting the money.