As Europe’s economic woes deepen amid talk of a double-dip recession, we asked our readers via Facebook, Twitter and email if they cared to share with us how the crisis has affected their lives. We received a deluge of responses. Some said they had been touched little if at all, while others described moments of hardship and struggle – jobs lost, loves lost, and futures rendered uncertain.
Here are five personal stories of how the economic crisis has changed the lives of individuals in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany. If you’ve been affected by Europe’s deepening financial woes, please share your experience with us in the comment section below.
“I was set to be married the same year my business shut down. We broke off the engagement”
For over a decade, James Arnold, 52, was the owner of a small but thriving employment agency in Ireland. He was forced to shut his company’s doors in 2010.
The banks had been giving me credit to pay taxes on time at the beginning and end of the year, which I was dependent on. By the beginning of 2010 they stopped, and I was left with a difficult decision to make. In the end, I used what capital I had to pay my employees their wages, and told them we were closing. I was able to find some of the staff jobs elsewhere, but many of them simply lost their jobs.
I was set to be married the same year my business shut down. I explained to my fiancée we had to put things on hold. She wanted to have a child, a few children actually, after we were married, and I was afraid of poverty. As a man, when you lose your ability to provide…It’s hard to explain, but it’s innate to be a provider. We broke off the engagement.
I can’t pay my mortgage, and I’m waiting to be evicted. I’ve got a Mercedes from when my business was doing well, but now I can’t afford to pay for it, so it sits there, unused. My friends have told me that my face is blotchy and my eyes are red. I went to the doctor who asked me if I was under an unusual amount of stress. I lied and said no.”
"I have to continue living abroad, and keep hoping that sooner or later I'll be able to go back to Italy"
Fed up after finding no stable work in Italy, Lorenzo Fantacuzzi packed his bags in 2009 and headed out west. Fantacuzzi, 40, now lives in Spain, but works in Gibraltar.
In Italy it was difficult to find work, so like a lot of people I went to an employment agency, which only gave me short-term contracts. There was no security, no future. So I went to look for a job in Gibraltar because I thought it was a good place to find one. I was wrong.
It’s very difficult to find work in Gibraltar because it is a very small country where the local economy is in the hands of few families. The casino industry there employs mostly foreigners, but it’s very competitive because there are too many candidates for very few vacancies.
Eventually I found a job in customer service working in a casino – and yes, it is a long-term contract. But the cost of living is so high in Gibraltar, I can’t afford to live there. So I live in a town in southern Spain, and I walk 20 minutes across the border into Gibraltar to go to work every day. Almost everyone who works in Gibraltar actually lives in Spain – the rent is so much cheaper and things like food don’t cost as much. For now, I have to continue living abroad, and keep hoping that sooner or later I'll be able to go back to Italy"
The walk from Spain to Gibraltar.
“I’m forced to live at home with my parents”
After years of studies and work experience in the tourism industry, Rute Isabel dos Santos, 31, has found it nearly impossibly to find a stable job with a living wage in Portugal’s dire economy. As a result, she finds herself still living with her parents.
The only time I’ve ever been able to live outside of my parents’ home was when I was first studying tourism and I spent some time in France. I worked there for a little more than a year, at Disney Land. After a while, I felt limited in this job and I decided to go home to Portugal in order to seek different opportunities. I found very few.
Any job I’ve had in Portugal has always been on a temporary basis. I’ve decided to go back to school to specialise in tour operating. But it’s difficult, because even with all the qualifications that I have, any job I’ll find will always be paid very little. In my profession, you earn about 700 euros a month, but rent costs at least 600 euros. So I’m forced to live at home with my parents.
My living situation puts a lot of constraints on my personal life. It prevents me from being able to spend time alone with someone, and it’s difficult to build a deep relationship with another person if you don’t have the physical space to do so.”
“I invested so much time, energy and money into a diploma that is now worthless”
Dr. Mohammed Ali Ghars first came to Europe from Tunisia eight years ago to pursue a doctorate in plant biotechnology. After spending five years studying in France, Ghars moved to Belgium where he worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Gembloux Agro Biotech, a university of agronomic sciences.
I found myself unemployed in January 2011. My contract was over and the university opted not to renew it, most likely because there’s no more money for funding.
I found a small job, rearranging fruits and vegetables in a store. But now I’ve been out of work for the last two months. The stress has caused me to lose 15 kilograms since January.
I’ve got family back in Tunisia who depend on me, who need me to send them money, but I can’t send what I don’t have. So they have to go without. I feel guilty knowing I invested so much time, energy and money into a diploma, into an education that is now worthless.
When I look at the jobs available out there, it’s usually for a technician or something small like that. But a post-doctoral researcher in plant biotechnology? There’s nothing.”
“I just feel like I’m empty inside”
Danny Shook, a US citizen from the state of Maryland, moved to Germany in 1985. He raised a family there and built a career working as a computer technician. In 2009, Shook found himself without a job. At the age of 51, he is now struggling to make ends meet in his adoptive country.
I worked for British Telecom in Germany until 2009. That year, I was bringing home an income of 123,000 euros a year. Then, they told me they intended to let me go. I could either leave the company immediately with 125,000 euros in my pocket, or I could stick it out to see if I would still have a job the next year. I felt like I had been hit in the stomach. My prospects didn’t look very promising. So after putting 20 years into my career, I decided that the best thing to do was to take the money and go.
I was unemployed for 15 months. I’ve found a job working as a technician, for which I’m paid 10 euros an hour. To say I’ve taken a serious cut in my annual income is an understatement. Although all of my kids are older than 18, I know they still need assistance from me, but they don’t dare ask. I can’t buy a birthday present, or send a card with 20 euros in it anymore. Now, I feel like I’m just empty inside.”