Is Greece on the mend?

Demonstrators wave Greek national flags during a demonstration in February, 2018.
Demonstrators wave Greek national flags during a demonstration in February, 2018.

Greece has exited eight years of financial bailouts, a milestone for the country and the European Union.

However, the positive headlines shouldn’t for a moment overshadow issues that could come back to bite the 28-member bloc. Greece’s economy remains fragile; many of its residents remain under-employed, if not impoverished; and the country’s woes are a dark reminder of how the failure of one economy can threaten many others in an interdependent world with large trading alliances.

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With the assistance of EU members and global financial institutions, Greece has staved off bankruptcy, cut unemployment, balanced its budget, improved its creditworthiness, increased exports and even made certain social-welfare improvements, such as an online prescription drug system.

The EU declared Greece’s comeback a victory, like those of Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, the other nations caught up in Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Yet Greece still has a mountain of debt to repay, struggles with bureaucratic sclerosis, lags in wireless infrastructure, and must rebuild an economy that’s 25 percent smaller than it used to be. Unemployment, though lower than at the height of the crisis, stands at a staggering 20 percent.

One Greek citizen told PRI’s The World that the recovery is “only on paper and, in general, I don’t think that people really care about that right now.” That’s because many Greeks are finding that rebuilding their lives will take longer than it did their country to navigate the bailout.

Personal suffering eased the national pain.To get its house in order, Greece cut pensions, increased taxes and chipped away at social programs. Employers shed jobs, converted full-time positions to part time, cut wages or went belly up, sometimes without paying workers what they owed. Investment slowed. Young people migrated to find better opportunities.

As Greece’s economy continues to improve, the conditions of its citizens should too. But for now, the world should view the end of the bailout as Greek citizens do. It’s a work in progress and many, many families have not yet turned the corner.