Turkish street vendors with college degrees: Our hope is running out
One way that young people in Turkey have dealt with rising unemployment is through engaging in unskilled labour such as selling items on the street.
The current joblessness rate among Turkey’s university-educated youth hovered at 12.8% at the beginning of the year, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. But this figure is thought to be much higher as it only reflects graduates who attempt to secure jobs through state employment agency Işkur.
Currently, there are 8 million students in the country studying at 128 state universities and 78 private universities in Turkey. But others have been forced to take to up casual work and for the time being at least give up on dreams of a salaried job.
University graduates who spoke with Ahval discussed the most significant challenges in being a street vendor in Izmir, a city of 4.2 million people on Turkey's Aegean coast.
Kudret Dinçdoğan operates a large stall that sells everything from incense, to jewellery and belt buckles. He graduated from Yaşar University in 2010 with a degree in logistics. He refers to his college years as “good for nothing”.
“If you graduated with a degree in my major, it's impossible to find a job without connections. I believed that studying at university in Turkey would bring me freedom. But I was wrong,” he said
Fırat Uysal runs a bookstall in Bornova, a residential area mostly inhabited by college students. Uysal’s dream was to remain in academia. But teaching opportunities are limited, and positions are few and far in between. He graduated in 2012 with a degree in philosophy from Ege University. He has been a street vendor ever since.
“Under our current conditions, the pedagogical training we received remains just in theory. There is no direct relation with job opportunities in this country if you're a university graduate,” he said.
Gabriel Kavlo, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in forestry from Black Sea Technical University, also highlighted the mismatch between university training and conditions in the job market.
Kavlo is the only one we spoke with who was able to secure a job after graduation, and he worked at the Forestry Ministry in eastern Turkey for a couple of weeks before he was let go. He said that he could not find employment after that as all the firms he applied to wanted at least four years of experience.
Selling merchandise on the street means that many go without a steady salary and social security insurance, said Dinçdoğan, leaving them vulnerable in case an emergency arises.
“There is no social security. If I get sick tomorrow, I won’t be able to go to the hospital. You have money on the day when you sell something, and nothing when you don’t,” he said.
Another major challenge faced by street vendors is economic uncertainty.
Dinçdoğan said most of his friends he graduated with are still on the minimum wage or unemployed. Since the beginning of the year, the minimum wage in Turkey has been 1,600 TL, or $328 a month. Dinçdoğan said he had been shouldering student loan debt and incurring interest since graduating. He borrowed money from the Credit and Dormitories Institution and owes about $1,000.
He lives with his parents. “I can’t afford to make a life of my own. University did not provide me with economic freedom.”
Kavlo said it was particularly difficult to work as a street vendor and cope with the falling value of the lira.
"The materials we get are indexed directly to the dollar. Naturally, we are trying to buy very expensive materials and sell them with minimal profit. While we were able to better get by in the past, we are saying now that we are at least able to fill our stomachs if we sell something," he said.
Street vendors must also avoid fines and punishment from the zabita, the local police who fine those selling merchandise without a permit. Typically when street vendors hear the zabita is around the corner, they pick up their merchandise and flee. Dinçdoğan said a significant challenge is transporting his stall from place to place as he is not allowed to set it up wherever he wants.
"Because we don't pay tax, we are an easy target for the state," said Uysal. When asked if he had any dreams for the future, Uysal said: “My only dream is that the zabita don’t come.”