The losing battle against Greece's tumbling birthrate

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STORY: Nicholas Giannakidis is the only 13-year-old in his village in northeastern Greece.His father Christos often drives him about 30 miles from Ormenio to play soccer with the few other children scattered across the region.The village used to be full of kids.Now, its president Stratos Vasiliadis says two thirds of the 300 residents are over 70.“We are at a turning point. The next few years are our last chance for something to change."Much of Europe is struggling with tumbling birthrates that experts say will threaten long-term economic well-being.And Greece is a stark example of how hard it will be to reverse the trend.Its prime minister has called the problem a “ticking time bomb.”Christos says he wanted a sibling for Nicholas - before the debt crisis hit last decade.“You want to have a second child. But to have a second child more money must come into the house. // To have a family these days, you need to become a hero.” Greece has one of the lowest fertility rates in all of Europe.In 2022, the country recorded its lowest number of births in over 90 years, driven by the debt crisis that led to years of austerity, emigration and changed attitudes among young people.There will likely be another drop in 2023, according to preliminary unofficial data.A few years ago, as protests raged over the government's austerity policies, youth unemployment was over 60%.It remains around 25%.Hundreds of thousands of young people have already left Greece.The nearest primary school to Ormenio serves 17 villages, and it's thinning out.Nektaria Mouropoulou is a first grade teacher to just four students.She says inflation and soaring rent means she can't start a family.“When you are in your 30s and earning 1,000 euros, of course you’ll think twice before starting a family, because you can't support it. It’s a lot. // Give me a reason to stay. Give young people like me a reason to stay here and have families and have schools filled with children, so that schools stay open.”Greece’s minister for social cohesion and family affairs - Sofia Zacharaki - says addressing falling birthrates will be an uphill battle.“If I were to tell you that any given minister at any given ministry, even when there is such a strong will and resolve by the Prime Minister, can reverse the trend, it would be a lie.”The country’s economy has rebounded in recent years.Greece already has a birth allowance, tax breaks on baby items and extended private sector maternity benefits.But these initiatives have shown few signs of working.Officials say the government is planning to unveil new measures in May.They could include cash benefits for families, affordable housing for young people, and financial help with assisted reproduction.Similar measures have fallen flat in other European countries.But Zacharaki says the government needs to keep at it.“Demography is everything, if you come to think of that. It’s infrastructure, it’s workforce, it’s economic policies.”//“We need to keep trying. And it is actually our duty to keep trying. We cannot just give up.”

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