• Germany's news in English

Working poor undermine Germany's prosperous image

AFP · 9 Mar 2008, 10:56

Published: 09 Mar 2008 10:56 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Germany's image is often of a prosperous country with autobahns chock-a-block with Mercedes and BMW cars. But for more than one million Germans, wages are so low they cannot get by without welfare.

The fate of the country's 3.6 million unemployed (8.6 percent of the population) often figures prominently among the concerns of politicians.

But that of the working poor – a hairdresser earning €3 ($4.50) an hour, or a security guard earning €748 ($1,137) per month before tax – has long been ignored.

According to the federal employment agency, 1.2 million employees – half of them working full time – currently also qualify for welfare. In 2005, there were 880,000 of them.

Recently, amid a heated national debate about the pros and cons of introducing a national minimum wage, the popular press has started to decry the "breadline wages" paid to cleaners, shop workers or chambermaids.

But the working poor spans many different, often unexpected, professions and social groups, according to Karl Brenke, a sociologist and economist at the Institute for Economic Research (DIW).

"On the one hand there are family men, well integrated into the labour market, who earn about €9 ($13.60) an hour," but whose income is boosted by government child support payments, he said.

"On the other hand, there are people in and out of work, who often combine unemployment pay with part time jobs," mostly for very low wages, he added.

Many of these working poor live in the former communist eastern Germany, the country's poorer region where social inequality runs rife.

According to a study released this week by the DIW, just over a quarter of all Germans now belong to the poor – those earning less than 70 percent of the yearly median wage of €16,000. In 2000, these accounted for just 18.9 percent of the working age population.

According to an OECD study, the gap between rich and poor grew more in Germany between 1995 and 2005 than nearly everywhere else in Europe. Only Poland and Hungary performed worse.

"We have very low wages in Germany. Compared to abroad, we are no longer where we thought we stood," Labour Minister Olaf Scholz said recently.

More than 15 percent of workers earn less than €7.50 gross per hour, according to the minister, a Social Democrat, who favours a national minimum wage for all in a country where such deals are currently limited to certain regions or to specific job sectors.

Employers as well as many inside Chancellor Angela Merkel's left-right coalition of conservative Christian Democrats and the centre-left Social Democrats, oppose such a plan for fear it could undermine job creation or even boost unemployment.

Story continues below…

It is better, they suggest, to top up the wages of the working poor with government welfare than pay out more unemployment money.

Last month, the government announced it was multiplying by 2.5 the number of people entitled to child support.

Such a move, the tabloid-style Bild newspaper suggested, might actually backfire because it could prompt people on welfare to stay at home rather than go out to seek work.

Bild used the example of a family with two children where both parents worked, earning €1,500 net per month. If they didn't work and applied for welfare, including a housing allowance, they would earn ... €1,501 per month, the paper said.

"Anyone who works in these circumstances is an idiot," the newspaper concluded.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd