For optimists, Donnelly’s rebound is a sign of long-awaited better times in Ireland and across Europe. Yet dig deeper, and nothing in Europe — including the spring in the step of Ireland’s economy — is as good as it seems.
What is emerging instead for the Irish and millions of other Europeans is a recognition that the toll left by four years of debt crisis has been far worse and the recovery more fragile than what Americans have endured since 2008 because of the U.S. financial crisis.
The economic landscape across the continent remains grim — so grim that some wonder whether a true recovery is taking root at all. On Tuesday, highly inconclusive results from Italy’s general elections rekindled fears of more debt woes in Europe, slamming stock and bond markets and affecting global commodity markets. Last week, the European Commission conceded that the 17 nations of the euro zone were heading for another year of recession in 2013, forecasting a contraction of 0.3 percent.
To be sure, Ireland is being held up as the leading light of a nascent recovery, a model for other hard-hit nations such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. The Irish economy is growing again. Housing prices and the unemployment rate are stabilizing, and Ireland is on track to become the first country in Europe to emerge during this crisis from an international bailout program.
Even so, Irish unemployment remains above 14 percent, and economists say that number would still be climbing were it not for an estimated 1,600 Irish workers a week leaving to find work overseas.
Those such as Donnelly who have landed new jobs face uncertainty. Although his new position is the best he has found in years, he was hired only on a one-year contract that — like so many of the new jobs being created here — offers no guarantee of permanent work. His new position, doing quality control on drugs, is also grades below his education and experience level. In terms of his income, Donnelly is roughly back where he was shortly after finishing his doctorate in 2005 and significantly below his salary peak in 2009.
“We’re having to live differently, to adjust to a different reality, to different expectations in life,” Donnelly said. “You just focus on trying to make sure things don’t get worse.”
In fact, more common than Donnelly’s are stories like that of Fran Whelan, a construction contractor whose business went bust during the crisis. He is attempting to put himself through business school at 43.