The November 1 broadcast of ABC World News couldn't have been any clearer about what's happening in Greece: Their pampered, early-retiring workforce is stealing from Americans.
Anchor Diane Sawyer explained:
If you were watching your stocks today, you saw a nosedive. The Dow down nearly 300 points, so, what changed? Well, blame it on the country of Greece, long criticized for being undisciplined, and now threatening American retirements.
OK, since we probably were all "watching our stocks" on Tuesday–like any other day–why is Greece doing this to us?
ABC correspondent Dan Harris explains how this all works by introducing us to 2 workers. The Greek–Yannis–is a 52-year-old bank teller, already retired for two years (naturally). The other is a 60-year-old Florida resident–Emma–who is "still having to work around the clock and doesn't have enough savings to retire."
How representative are those workers? While Yannis resembles the Greek worker most familiar in the U.S. media, it's not clear that he's at all typical. This chart, for instance, shows the Greek retirement age isn't all that different from the rest of Europe.
Harris explains that Greeks live it up:
And check this out. While our maximum Social Security payment is around $28,000 a year, over in Greece, where Yannis lives, it's 20 grand more, $48,000 a year.
It's hard to figure out exactly what is being compared here, or where the figures come from. But you get the idea. Harris goes on to say that Greece "is a country of generous benefits, of pools and Porsches," with American workers footing the bill:
And so here is how Emma is now paying for Yannis.
In order to pay for all the retirement packages for people like Yannis, the Greek government borrowed big time from banks all over Europe. Now, Greece says it can't pay. So, those banks are facing huge losses and that could push Europe into a depression. Since America does so much business with Europe, we would be pulled down, too, and that, of course, would hurt Emma's savings.
I'm confused. Emma doesn't have much in the way of savings; even still,it's hard to fathom how that money is at risk. America might get "pulled down" and that would…affect her Social Security checks? There's no explanation for how that could possibly be true. But there is a graphic:
Oh. Now it makes sense, right? You can see the dollars floating out of the U.S. bank right into Europe.
You seem to hear more about Greek retirees than Greek workers, which makes stories like this fuel a sense of outrage at what Harris calls Greek's "fat pensions."
But occasionally another message breaks through, like in this USA Today piece (5/10/10):
ATHENS — A hard life is about to get harder for Manolis Fylaktidis.
Greece's cash-strapped government is cutting the schoolteacher's $27,300 salary by about $5,300 as part of a dramatic austerity move the prime minister says is needed to pay the country's ballooning debt. "It is difficult now…. We have to change our life because life is too expensive," Fylaktidis says.
Even as the 44-year-old teacher's salary falls, the government is raising the value-added tax on most purchases for the second time in as many months, to 23 percent, and increasing electricity and water charges.
We might live in a very different world if workers in one country saw what they have in common with workers in another country, instead of being made to feel angry about supposedly cushy retirements.