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Commuting: How many people in Germany travel to another federal state for work?

The number of people who travel long distances to get to work in Germany has been rising in recent years. How could petrol and public transport costs change - and will the pandemic affect working habits?

Commuting: How many people in Germany travel to another federal state for work?
Drivers on the Autobahn 7 in north Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bodo Marks

Nearly 3.4 million people in Germany travelled to work in a different federal state than their place of residence last year. 

That’s according to current commuter figures from the Federal Employment Agency (BA), which were requested by the Left Party, and made available to DPA.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in commuter numbers in Germany. In 1999, only 2.1 million people didn’t have their place of work in the state in which they lived.

The BA figures do not show, however, how many people temporarily did not have to commute because of coronavirus-related restrictions that have led to many people working from home.

In the statistics, a comparison is made between the place of residence and the place of work, a BA spokeswoman explained. “Whether the place of work is actually visited cannot be mapped out,” she said.

But the Federal Statistical Office previously conducted a survey on the influence of the pandemic on commuting behaviour, which gives us some insight. According to it, there was a decline in commuting from March 2020. In April, the decline became more pronounced, and in May 2020, more people were commuting again.

There is currently a lot of discussion about whether people will also be able to do more home working after the pandemic and therefore also have to commute less.

READ ALSO: Home Office makes employees more effective and happy, Germany study finds

Why is commuting being discussed in Germany right now?

This issue has come to the forefront because of the federal election coming up this September. Parties have been debating how to reduce carbon emissions, while also balancing out people’s car usage and Germany’s love of the automobile. There’s also been talk about the cost of public transport.

Green Party co-leader Annalena Baerbock has – according to her party’s draft programme – advocated to raise the tax on petrol by 16 cents a litre if the Greens were to win power, in an effort to push the country more towards carbon neutrality.

It would increase gas prices by around 10 percent.

Against the backdrop of the current debate on gas prices, the Left Party’s Sabine Zimmermann called for consideration to be given to commuters. It would be “cynical if the price of getting to work were to be pushed ever higher,” she told DPA.

Zimmermann added: “Employees are being asked to be mobile and, in some cases, to travel long distances to work. No federal government, not even the Greens, have wanted to change anything about that so far.”

As far as transportation is concerned, Zimmermann did call for an end to the internal combustion engine. However, she said, the government must keep the commute to work affordable. This includes the expansion of railroads with low-cost tickets and affordable electro-mobility options. 

Where are Germany’s commuters?

Compared to 2019, the number of people living and working in different federal states last year fell slightly, according to the BA statistics. There were 3.381 million federal state commuters subject to social security contributions in 2020. In 2019, there were 3.396 million.

According to the statistics, the most commuters between federal states in 2020 were 225,000 going from Brandenburg to Berlin, and the fewest were 41 from Bremen to Saarland.

The example of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, shows the extent of commuting beyond urban areas: 93,000 employees lived in North Rhine-Westphalia but worked in neighbouring Lower Saxony, 64,000 in neighboring Hesse. Meanwhile, 47,000 NRW residents worked in Bavaria and 38,000 in Baden-Württemberg.

In 2020, around 408,000 eastern German employees commuted to the west, according to the Federal Agency’s figures (2019: 415,000). Conversely, around 178,000 employees came from western Germany to work in the east, remaining unchanged from the previous year.

It is yet to be seen how the pandemic will impact long-term habits of commuting in Germany. 

MUST READ: Will working from home become norm post-corona crisis?

Vocabulary

Commuter/commuters – (der or die) Pendler

Place of work – (der) Arbeitsort

Comparison (der) Abgleich 

Against the background of – vor dem Hintergrund von

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany soon be working until the age of 68?

A dramatic warning issued by an expert commission to the government has said that Germany faces a “financial shock” if it doesn’t raise its retirement age soon. So will we all have to work for longer in the near future?

EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany soon be working until the age of 68?
An elderly man uses a computer. Photo: dpa | Andreas Gebert

A report issued this week by the Economy Ministry’s advisory council warned that Germany will have to deal with “shocking increases in financing issues for the statutory pension system from 2025 onwards”.

The council said that the only solution was the unpopular step of raising the age of retirement to 68. But the proposal has been met with fierce criticism from left-wing parties.

What is the current retirement age in Germany?

The age of retirement in Germany has been slowly increasing since the year 2012, when a government reform raised it from 65 to an eventual age of 67.

Currently, the age of retirement is being raised by a month each year. People who were born in the year 1956 and are celebrating their 65th birthday this year will have to wait until they are 10 months past their 65th birthday before they can celebrate their retirement.

READ MORE: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

Then, starting in the year 2024, the age of retirement will be raised by two months every year until it hits a ceiling of 67. That means that people born in the year 1964 will have to wait until their 67th birthday before they can start to enjoy the third phase of their life.

Why are government advisors calling for it to be raised even further?

As Germans live longer while also having less children, the demographic makeup of society is changing dramatically. While the proportion of working age people to retirees is currently three to one, it is expected to increase to three to two by the year 2060.

That means that there are ever fewer working age people paying into the state pension system to support a pay-outs for an ever larger population of pensioners.

The expert commission’s report predicted that, should current demographic trends continue, the proportion of the state budget that would flow into the pension system would rise from the current size of 26 percent to 44 percent by 2040.

“That would break the federal budget and would not be financeable even with massive tax increases,” warned Klaus Schmidt, who led the commission.

He further warned that increases in state financing of pensions would come at the cost of investment in digital infrastructure and education.

How has the report been received?

It has been met with stinging criticism from left-wing parties.

The left-wing Linke party described it as “an anti-social act of cheek” and promised to “defend the rights of pensioners with tooth and claw.”

They point out that one in five Germans still don’t live to their 69th birthday.

“The numbers speak for themselves: the higher the retirement age, the fewer people who will ever be able to enjoy their pensions,” the party’s social affairs expert Sabine Zimmermann said.

SEE ALSO: Germany plans reforms to avoid double taxation on pensions

The party say that, because life expectancy is higher the more one earns, raising the retirement age effectively means redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. They want the retirement age to be brought back down to 65.

Praise for the report came from the Federal Employers’ Association, who said that “this conversation needs to be had, and it needs to be had honestly”.

The association warned that if action wasn’t taken on pensions, then Germany would soon have more people receiving benefits than paying into the system.

Are the report’s findings likely to be implemented?

There is almost no chance that the reports finding will be implemented by the current government.

With a national election just over three months away, the coalition won’t want to back a policy proposal likely to unpopular on the doorstep.

The Social Democrats have out and out rejected the report. SPD Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz accused the expert commission of getting its maths wrong.

Describing the report as a “horror scenario” that was intended to create fear, Scholz said that “I won’t discuss any further increase in the retirement age.”

READ ALSO: Old age poverty in Germany set to rise significantly

The CDU also distanced themselves from the findings.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) said that the retirement age should remain at 67, adding that ‘“that has been my opinion for years”.

After the election, the tone from the CDU could change though, as warnings about the financial viability of the current system have come from various quarters in recent months.

Similar proposals to increase the age of retirement have come from economic institutes and the Federal Bank, all of which predict that the current arrangement is not sustainable in the long term.

The Federal Bank’s proposal goes even further, encouraging the government to push the retirement age up to over 69.

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