The sheer breadth of the devastation caused by the austerity imposed upon Portugal is hard to describe without filling a book, but a quick look at this week’s local headlines gives a good overview.
I mentioned the €505-per-month minimum wage to one of our hosts in Scotland and he thought I was pulling his leg. That’s understandable, since the minimum wage in the UK is €1420 per month. To put that in perspective, the UK pays the lowest minimum wage in the western EU, with of course the exceptions of Spain and Greece. Even Spain manages to pay €750.
And when was the last time you saw a headline stating in relieved tones that the overall unemployment rate was stable at 14 percent? Well, compared to the 17.5 percent that it hit in the first quarter of 2013 — a record in Portugal’s history — 14 percent starts to look pretty good. Avert your eyes from the youth unemployment rate, though. It’s currently near 36 percent.
As for the pay of professionals — which has been cut every year for several years in a row — I guess we should be happy that we’re beating out some of the nations in the Middle East and Africa. Woo!
We are fortunate in that only one of those headlines applies to our family. But there’s another headline that I haven’t been seeing; an effect of austerity that isn’t as easily quantified as those numbers. And it definitely applies to our family.
Our son started school three weeks ago. As of today — the end of the third week — he still has no teachers for five of his classes.
They are: art, Portuguese, Spanish, geography, and mathematics.
Teachers are assigned their classes and schools by the state, based on their preferences and seniority. Small-town schools don’t get a lot of priority. Once the assignments are handed out, classes that didn’t get teachers and teachers that didn’t get an assignment all collect in a “market” run by the ministry of education. This market was an utter failure this year, last year, and the year before that. The result is that we now find it normal that our son will not have teachers for two or more of his classes for at least the first month of his school year.
I have to say, though, five is a new record. But it’s not all that surprising when the government laid off tens of thousands of employees from the education sector in an attempt to satisfy the austerity requirements imposed on the nation. Among those were thousands of teachers.
Our son’s maximum class size used to be 26 students. That is now the minimum, with many classes going up to 40 students. His teachers are frequently not teaching their actual expertise. He’s losing around 10% of his education time to austerity cuts and general mismanagement.
The Portuguese government has turned its back on its youth. And they are responding with what you’d expect from youths who fully understand how little valued they are: they’re making plans to leave. A recent survey of Portuguese students at the Catholic University in Lisboa found that 46% of them expect to emigrate once they finish school.
Our son may be joining the crowd. He’s already planning to finish his advanced education abroad.
He is fourteen years old. When you were fourteen, were you planning to leave your country?