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As Skilled Workers Abandon Greece, Rebuilding Its Economy Gets Harder

Jan 22, 2016
Originally published on January 22, 2016 6:06 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now to Greece, where the economy, you might remember, was in the news nearly every day last summer, though over the last few months - not so much. So Jacob Goldstein from our PLANET MONEY team checked in with a Greek businessman he spoke with at the height of the crisis and got an update that took him by surprise.

JACOB GOLDSTEIN, BYLINE: When I talked to Miltiades Gkouzouris last summer, he told me he was keeping his car full of gas at all times. That way, he said, if the country collapsed completely - no food left on the grocery store shelves, chaos in the streets - he could pack up his wife and kids and drive across the border. A few weeks after we talked, Greece worked out a deal with the rest of Europe, kept the bailout thing going, and that acute sense of crisis passed. The other day, I called Gkouzouris back, just to check in.

Are you still keeping the gas tank in your car filled up?

MILTIADES GKOUZOURIS: Well, actually, tomorrow I'm leaving the country permanently.

GOLDSTEIN: Wait, so you're leaving Greece?

GKOUZOURIS: Yes, I'm leaving Greece.

GOLDSTEIN: Did you say you're leaving tomorrow?

GKOUZOURIS: Yes, tomorrow. Tomorrow at around 11 o'clock, I'm on the plane on my way to the Netherlands.

GOLDSTEIN: Just by coincidence, the day I called him on the phone was the day before he left Greece for good.

GKOUZOURIS: Well, I'm fed up with this country. That's the reason.

GOLDSTEIN: You're fed up.

GKOUZOURIS: Yes. Listen, in the next year, our two little daughters will have to go to school. One of the public schools nearby our place where we live now has no teachers, so they let the cleaning lady take care of the kids. And the kids are watching television inside the school.

GOLDSTEIN: This is a really clear reminder that even though Greece made that deal with Europe last year - got those bailouts - the country is still broken. And the way the EU is set up, it is really easy for Greek people to move to other EU countries, especially if they're highly-educated, highly-skilled people. Gkouzouris went to school in the Netherlands. He speaks multiple languages, and he runs a consulting company that already does a big chunk of its business outside Greece. Of course, that doesn't mean leaving is emotionally easy.

GKOUZOURIS: My mother was crying today. My mother was crying on the phone. She said, my son, you're leaving again? I said, mom, it's for the sake of our children. We need to provide them a much better future than this one. She understands that. Still, it's painful.

GOLDSTEIN: Lots of Greek professionals are doing exactly what Gkouzouris is doing - they're leaving Greece for EU countries with stronger economies, which makes sense. But this is really bad news for Greece. The loss of all these highly-skilled workers will make it even harder for Greece to rebuild its economy. Jacob Goldstein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.