When the financial crisis hit Portugal in 2010, it marked the end of the idea that we were on the same economic footing as northern Europe. I was born during a time of “fat cows,” which began when Portugal joined the European Union in 1986. For the next 14 years, it was easy for the Portuguese to access credit for vacations or houses or cars, or, really, anything else. Then, in 2011, the country nearly defaulted on its debts, we received an $83-billion bailout from the European Union, and the age of austerity set in. The government slashed public-sector pay, pensions, and benefits. In 2013, unemployment peaked at nearly 18 percent. Members of my generation, the “most educated in Portugal’s history,” moved abroad or worked for minimum wage—less than $600 a month. My parents had always wanted me to live nearby, but one...

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