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Going, Going, Gone? Greece’s Shrinking Population Sets Off Alarms

ATHENS – A year decade of crushing austerity during an economic crisis, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic has also seen so many Greeks giving up trying to have families – the cost of living has soared – that the population keeps dwindling.

There was an exodus of some 500,000 who fled to other countries seeking jobs and a better life during the crisis from 2010-18 that required three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($346.13 billion) to keep the economy afloat.

Greece’s population through 2021 was 9,716,889, said the country’s statistics agency ELSTAT, amid reports that census takers for 2022 were quitting by the dozens because of harassment from people refusing to take part.

The data was sent to Interior Minister Makis Voridis in order to determine in January the new distribution of seats for the elections for Prime Minister and Parliament that must be held by July.

The large urban centers will get more seats, such as the western and northern sectors of the second part of Athens, the first part of Thessaloniki, eastern Attica and the southern part of Athens. Kozani, Serres, Fthiotida, Magnesia, Kastoria, Arta and Thesprotia will lose seats, as well as Piraeus.

It will keep declining over the next 20 years by some 24 percent to only 8.1 million by the turn of the next century in 2100, said the the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) presented at the Demographics 2022 conference in central Athens in June.

The data showed that Greece’s population decreased 4 percent, or 441,000 people, in the decade 2011-21 as both the natural balance (births-deaths) and the migrant balance are negative.

IOBE said even the most optimistic scenario – including Greece accepting migrants and refugees it’s trying desperately to keep out and fewer leaving Greece – would show a decrease of 16 percent to 8.9 million by 2100.

In the case of zero migration flows, the population contraction is expected to be as much as 45 percent as even a 2,000 euro ($2123) bonus to parents for each child born hasn’t been able to reverse the trend.

MORE DEATHS THAN BIRTHS

The downswing continues to put a strain on the social security systems with fewer people paying into benefits for those who retired, including those as young as 35 before the age for getting a pension was raised to 62 in most cases.

The Gross Domestic Production (GDP) by 2100 is also seen dropping by 58 billion euros ($61.58 billion) or nearly 25 percent in another blow to the country’s economy and no signs the birth rate will increase.

The workforce will lose 2.1 million people, budget revenues will drop by 14 billion euros ($14.86 billion) and per capita GDP by about 1,740 euros ($1847) in another hit for workers who bore the brunt of austerity.

The decline in births compared to deaths began as early as 1980 but really took off during the economic crisis in which Greece lost not only a big chunk of its population but the best and brightest among them, most not returning.

Warning of an “immediate and significant danger,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at that 2022 event, announcing creation of a national council tasked with trying to reverse the negative demographic trends.

“We are not dealing with a threat to our national identity, but with a direct challenge to the country’s ability to produce wealth on an individual and collective level, thereby sustaining the social fabric that binds people together,” he said.

IOBE General Director Nikos Vettas said then as well that there was only a small percentage of Greeks  working and Mitsotakis’ Chief Economic adviser Alex Patelis said it’s only 37 percent and that 33 percent of the young remain without work.

That’s despite the economy growing some 6 percent in 2022 during the waning COVID-19 pandemic although the government had to put more than 9 billion euros ($9.56 billion) into energy subsidies to pay 90 percent of household electricity bills that doubled.

Vrettas noted that, “We are one of the lowest countries in terms of women in the workforce,” he said, with fewer than 60 percent of those with young children being able to work.

“We are last in Europe if we measure the participation of women in work and other positions,” he said, adding that women must be supported.

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