By Winfried Roth
Who is poor and when and where does poverty begin? It is a question of definition, it is based on moral-political value judgments – for example about an adequate standard of living or about social inequality.
Christoph Butterwegge: "Poverty is wanted. ‘There you end up if you stop working’."
Do they really have something in common? A bricklayer in Calcutta who has to sleep on the street, an emaciated, demolished day laborer in 19th century Berlin – and a long unemployed clerk in Hamburg today who drives a polo and has already been to Antalya and Lanzarote? Can someone who owns a car be poor?
Meral Karakoç: "I was really ashamed of the country that people have to live like this."
The common notion of poverty is determined by extremely poor people. A kneeling beggar in front of the mall, dozens of people waiting in front of a food counter, an old woman asking for leftovers in a restaurant, refugees in a sports hall, a homeless man with torn clothes who carries all his possessions in a few plastic bags.
But most job center visitors look pretty unremarkable. Even people who pick bottles out of the trash in shopping streets or train stations are often – chic or stylish – dressed like average earners. Even in the most derelict quarters of major German cities, car after car is lined up. According to statistics, extreme poverty is a marginal phenomenon today.
Radka L .: "I am very sad. I am not a person here. I look into each other’s eyes – and they say I’m not human."
Then why is the focus most likely on homeless shelters or "Panel"? And not to the much larger world of "average" Poor? Partly the term "poverty" still shaped by the shocking conditions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Even in the then richest countries – such as England and Germany – many millions of people did not have enough to eat, wore tattered clothing and lived in miserable apartments. A similar fate affects more than 800 million people in developing countries today. Reports and advertising campaigns constantly blend their living conditions into everyday life in Germany.
Christoph Schröder: "The minimum physical existence: having a roof over your head or not suffering from hunger. In developed countries like Germany, of course, it’s about a social subsistence level. Basically, nobody has to freeze and go hungry here. It is about being able to participate in social life."
"emotional" or "cultural" Poverty can also hit millionaires – the gossip press is full of articles about discontented, lonely empires. Conversely, there are people with low incomes who are happy, culturally interested and socially active – like Olaf Kremer.
Olaf Kremer: "Yes . Yes ! We can already call ourselves poor. I’m actually reluctant . "
The 47-year-old – tall, confident – is currently training as an educator. He worked for a long time in gastronomy, a typical low-wage industry – and also received unemployment benefit II, "Hartz IV". He tells lively and contentedly about his family, his engagement in the Catholic Church or in the district council of Mannheim-city center.
Kremer: "Am I actually poor now? But then I have to realize that we are actually quite rich."
Radka: "I can’t take this pressure anymore. I am very sad. I have no zest for life."
Stress to the point of existence
Radka L. – her name is different – is 35. The handsome, intelligent woman has mostly worked as a cleaner in recent years. She and her husband came to Düsseldorf from Bulgaria a few years ago. Stefan is – as has been the case several times – unemployed. Most recently, the thoughtful and at the same time energetic 39-year-old worked for three months in a small construction company:
"He didn’t pay on the day he was supposed to pay the wages. I have no guarantee of what I get."
Not always, but often a low income means inadequate education, broken health, stress or downright fear of existence. Poor people in different countries and eras have in common that they experience contempt, feel marginalized. In Germany today, on average, they die much earlier than others.
Radka: "I used to work before, but I had an accident. I’m not so fit now. I have had multiple operations."
Sometimes Radka L. doesn’t take medication because she lacks the money for the additional payments.
Schröder: "We still have the problem with us that the level of education of children and adolescents depends relatively clearly on their social background, that children from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds find it difficult to achieve a high level of education."
Many people in Germany face poverty in old age. (picture alliance / dpa / Britta Pedersen)
The economist Christoph Schröder from the entrepreneurial institute of the German economy Cologne is an expert in labor market and social policy.
Schröder: "In the long term, we have an increase in the poverty rate in Germany. But since about 2005 the income poverty rate has remained at roughly the same level."
Most of the poor live in smaller and less well-equipped apartments, in disadvantaged areas, "forgotten" Districts such as Düsseldorf-Hassels – where the L. couple live – Duisburg-Hochfeld or Neckarstadt West in Mannheim. Schools and leisure facilities are often inadequate there. A spatial concentration of poor people can also promote a mood of self-abandonment. Children may be missing "role models" how "working parents" or "professionally successful".
The most sober information on income provides the most important information about poverty. Social science studies go beyond them "life quality". They also ask about satisfaction, health, educational level, living and environmental situation, working conditions or a feeling of security. In Europe, higher incomes usually correspond to higher levels of satisfaction. According to the United Nations Human Development Index and a number of so-called happiness indices, low-income countries are sometimes more wealthy in the global south. "life quality" is difficult to define and even more difficult to express in numbers. Such models are controversial.
Butterwegge: "Ultimately, money is crucial in a society that is so heavily focused on consumption. And that’s why I don’t believe in saying that money is not everything. Most things are simply not possible without money. Therefore, I think that happiness with us also depends on money."
Prof. Christoph Butterwegge from the University of Cologne is the author of numerous books on poverty. He is one of the left-wing critics of current economic and social policy.
Butterwegge: "In a rich society, where almost everyone has a car, those who have to move differently are relatively poor."
Poverty is always a question of definition. Purely economic definitions also have moral-political value judgments as background, for example when it comes to "reasonable" social inequality and "reasonable" Standard of living goes. Therefore it is also problematic to calculate the subsistence minimum. Christoph Schröder:
Schröder: "You calculate it, but it’s not an absolute number that can be scientifically proven. Ultimately, standards play an important role."
Christoph Butterwegge thinks:
"A poor society will understand the minimum subsistence level to mean that someone can meet their basic needs, that they do not starve, that they do not die of diseases that can be treated. A rich society will of course set the minimum subsistence level differently, i.e. rely on the fact that, in addition to satisfying basic needs, someone can also participate in social, political, and cultural processes. That is why one cannot objectively establish a subsistence minimum, least of all once and for all. But you are always dependent on where someone lives and under what conditions."
Are a vacation trip or a car for the poor "reasonable" ?
Karakoç: "I think we lived very poorly! I also wanted to offer my child something and then slept with my mother in Krefeld – so that my daughter also had the feeling that we were now on vacation. She packed her little suitcase – ‘We’re going on vacation!’"
Meral Karakoç: The trained saleswoman from Duisburg, 43, was unemployed for eight years. In the meantime, the spirited woman with the shining eyes has caught up on the technical college diploma and is studying social work. Her daughter Gülara is now 15 and is in high school.
What do you know about poverty in Germany?
How exactly do you know about poverty in Germany? Various definitions and key figures are in circulation in science and politics. The thing is a bit confusing, you can easily get confused. The terms are particularly important "extreme" and "relative" Poverty as well "poverty". The data for this – also for the "Poverty and wealth reports" the Federal Government – primarily supplies the Federal Statistical Office. Some studies by the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, the EU statistics office or charities work with their own definitions and data sources and offer correspondingly different results. Everywhere the latest data is often years old.
at "relative poverty" is about the distance to the median income of German households. It is generally accepted in social science that the poverty line is fifty percent of this income. For singles, that’s a good 760 euros a month. Why 50 and not 62 or 38 percent? Christoph Butterwegge from the University of Cologne:
"This is of course an arbitrary determination. It should only give an approximate value for the poverty line."
If someone does not even have 610 euros available, i.e. less than forty percent of the median income, they are considered extremely poor. Comparatively small groups are affected in Germany – such as illegally living migrants and homeless people.
Butterwegge: "The estimates are very different. Homeless people – there are said to be over 350,000 people who are homeless and some of them also live on the streets."
But other people also fall through the safety nets of the welfare state. Stefanl. from Düsseldorf reports on protracted conflicts with the job center – and believes that they have something to do with his belonging to the Roma minority:
Stefan L .: "We bring the same papers ten or 15 times, over and over again. That in the period of five or six months in which we don’t get any money. In the first place is discrimination, one hundred percent."
His wife Radka tells how the family lives with three children:
"A three-room apartment – for five people. At the moment – because the job center does not pay – the rent is not paid. There is still electricity. Not everything is new. Everything is bought ‘second hand’."
Stefan L. sometimes feels depressed, for example .
". because my daughter saw toys in kindergarten. Of course she comes home and wants it. I can never buy it for her. And she says ‘I don’t ask any more’. It is five."
Meral Karakoç was involved in the alleged Duisburg-Hochfeld ghetto – where she lived for a long time – in a project for Roma children:
"I once visited a child at home. That was really scary. They had little to eat. I almost had to cry. I was really ashamed of the country that people have to live like this."
The so-called poverty risk rate is the most frequently mentioned. If you can only spend 60 percent of your median income, you could soon be poor. In 2014, 15 percent of Germans had to deal with the risk of poverty or poverty. According to a somewhat different definition by the EU, it was as much as 17 percent.
After all, the is widely used "Hartz IV quota". It is significantly lower – for example, because not all poor people are applying for support.
Insightful, rather irritating figures for Germany can be found in EU statistics on the subject "life quality". The annual reports "Living in Europe" According to the report, between the Baltic Sea and the Black Forest, around 4 million people cannot afford to heat their homes sufficiently. 7 million have so little money that not even every other day "quality full" Food is on her table. A weeklong vacation trip covers the financial possibilities of almost 20 million Germans. 25 out of a good 80 million citizens can cope with unexpected expenditure of 1,000 euros with difficulty – or not at all. The latest figures show that poverty is also part of the "social center" threatened..
People stand in line on Tuesday (01.02.2011) "Integration center for work Gelsenkirchen – the job center" in Gelsenkirchen (pa / dpa / Stratenschulte)
Karakoç: "I was poor! For example, that I ran out of money in the middle of the month because I had additional payments."
How much money does someone need at least a month? With regard to the poverty of individual people, the level of this subsistence level is disputed again and again. Christoph Schröder from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research:
Schröder: "It is the case with us that one looks at the calculation of the standard rates for ALG II – what did the lower fifth of the population have to spend? Based on this, you then construct a shopping cart."
The so-called standard rate of unemployment benefit II represents this subsistence minimum: 404 euros basic needs for individuals plus – regionally different – rent and heating costs. Charities, churches, unions and Meral Karakoç do not think that is enough.
Quite a few affected people gloss over their situation during surveys. Many who are entitled to basic old-age security – around the amount of "Hartz IV" -, forego money.
Butterwegge: "What I find interesting is that little is reported about the number of unreported cases. There is little talk of people trying to make ends meet without claiming the state. because people are ashamed of themselves, are too proud, shy away from bureaucratic hurdles, because they do not know that such benefits exist or that they are due to them."
Christoph Butterwegge from the University of Cologne. Support payments by relatives, which are concealed from the authorities, also lead to a distorted picture. They are particularly common among migrants, even distant relatives.
Karakoç: "I also got money from my parents. I actually had to tell the job center: ‘I got 50 euros or 100 euros for my birthday’. But I didn’t see it to say that."
There are also discounted or free offers in education, transport companies or in the cultural scene. Meral Karakoç sometimes got groceries from Duisburger Tafel.
The role of undeclared work for the poor is likely to be overestimated. Most are poorly qualified or have poor health. In addition, the impulses often come from others. Olaf Kremer from Mannheim:
Kremer: "What I experience – that it is said ‘We employ you on 135 euros, on 200 euros. We can do the hours about it like that. ‘ But where I basically reject it. That is at the expense of all of us."
There is another reason why income statistics are inadequate. Even with the same income, the standard of living of the poor can differ significantly. Many have been working for decades – and are happy about a car or comfortable home furnishings. A small group – mostly older people – lives in their own house or in a condominium.
Schröder: "Someone may have lost their job right now, but that’s not why they sell their entire belongings."
Karakoç: "You can sometimes get a car for 200 euros."
Meral Karakoç has just as little as Olaf Kremer. She tells of the first time she was unemployed:
"I had great things, clothes, the furnishings were perfect. If someone came in – they didn’t look at me. Everyone thinks that if you are poor, you have to walk around with broken things. It’s not like that."
East Germany poorer than West Germany
The world of poverty in Germany today is full of contrasts. It looks worse in East Germany than in the West. The poverty rate in Berlin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt is more than 20 percent – as are Leipzig, Bremen, Cologne, Dortmund, Duisburg, Essen and Nuremberg.
The "typical"Long-term unemployed are affected. And yet not all of them live on it "Hartz IV" – for example when partners earn well. Single parents, children and adolescents, the low-skilled and people with a migration background are also doing worse than average. It is the other way around with the elderly – after all, their generation has full employment and "Prosperity for all" experienced. However, poverty in old age has increased significantly in recent years.
Kremer: "An income that you can live on – that is not the case in many service occupations. In between, I had taken up a job in a call center. 167 hours. There the gross income was 1300 euros. You can’t feed a family on that."
The working poor are a striking group. Around 1.2 million people have to apply for supplementary unemployment benefit II. Olaf Kremer liked his jobs in gastronomy. But:
"That was around 1000 euros. Half day. The supplementary ALG was a good five years long."
A possible alternative:
Kremer: "The bottom line is that people tend to take a second job – I had one too. As a mini job – in a kiosk. This is a double burden that you cannot drive for long. That eats you."
Is poverty less bad if it only hits you temporarily? For example, students can expect a well-paid job in the medium term. Single parents may find an acceptable job again after a few years. Or migrants succeed in advancing after a difficult start-up phase. On the other hand, according to Christoph Butterwegge:
Butterwegge: "Every second ‘Hartz IV’ recipient is four years or more in relation. Even a million people since 2005."
What did poverty look like in Germany and Western Europe in the past? In the 19th and early 20th centuries, millions of people lived here in crowded, dark apartments, in dirty slum areas. They were often malnourished and died at forty or fifty. They had no coverage for illness and old age and were dependent on alms. Countless emigrated.
GDR snake (picture-alliance / ZB / Waltraud Grubitzsch)
There were also poor people in the lost ones "state socialist" Companies. The Soviet Union or the GDR offered a significant level of social security – as a distraction from political lack of freedom. Nevertheless, the differences in income and wealth – especially home ownership – were greater than the propaganda suggested. Not to mention the hidden wealth from the shadow economy, especially in the Soviet Union. Quite a few old and disabled people lived on the edge of the subsistence minimum. Overall, however, social inequality was much lower than in the West.
Have arms in Kinshasa, São Paulo, Dhaka. and Mannheim have something in common?
Kremer: "Not at all. Because we have a strong social system that everyone can access. With us nobody has to go hungry. You are on the sidelines – this is perhaps a commonality."
. says Olaf Kremer. About two thirds of the world’s population do not have 300 euros a month at their disposal. One tenth is affected by extreme poverty – especially in central and southern Africa and India. Then it is not malnutrition but hunger that is typical, as well as high child mortality, a lack of health care, completely inadequate living conditions or homelessness.
Some countries have made impressive progress in the past few decades – particularly China, Indonesia, India and Brazil. Yet hundreds of millions of people still live in poverty there. In the United States, there are almost 50 million, according to official figures. In the EU countries Spain, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, over 20 percent of the population have to cope with the subsistence minimum. Stefan L. tells of Roma in Bulgaria:
Stefan L .: "They are very, very poor people. There are many who have no cent. One day I went through a street – there are no houses, but barracks, without windows. The children were without shoes in winter and the mother was crying on the street. I’m scared, I asked. Because she hasn’t eaten in two days."
He and his family at least lived a little better.
Stefan L .: "I grew up in a Roma neighborhood in Pazardzhik. I finished the eighth grade, at that time it was not possible to continue my education or start studying because of my background. I had a dream – I wanted to study surgery, medicine. I worked as a self-employed on the market."
His wife Radka also looks back on bleak experiences:
Radka L .: "I went to school up to fifth grade. Then I tried to work, also in the trade, but it was tedious because there was no security. There is no work in Bulgaria, that’s why I’m here. So that I can feed my children."
Karakoç: "When I think back – my parents, in the 1970s, didn’t know unemployment at all."
Meral Karakoç’s parents worked in the metal industry in NRW.
Poverty has increased significantly
Why has poverty increased so much since then? There were also times with fewer problems. After this "economic miracle" In the post-war years, only seven percent of households in the Federal Republic were considered destitute. The economic crisis since the mid-1970s was a turning point. It has resulted in mass unemployment and an expansion of the low wage sector.
Butterwegge: "There is more unsecured employment. Mini jobs, temporary agency work, temporary work, contracts for work are now being used to erode the normal employment relationship. I see a major reason for the increase in poverty."
Demography also played a role. The share of singles in the population has increased in recent decades. Compared to people who live with others, they spend more on heating, electricity or electrical appliances. The result: more households fell below the poverty line
Poverty among children is unfortunately a reality in a country as rich as Germany. For the affected children, this means being unable to participate in normal life. (picture alliance / dpa / Nicolas Armer)
The decline in unemployment since 2010 has hardly reduced poverty.
With the increase in poverty, the gaze of the majority society has changed on the Affected affected? Until the 1980s, unemployed people were more likely to be victims – they were not responsible for the fact that millions of jobs were missing. Since then, economists and politicians have more and more openly justified inequality. They declared the long-term unemployed to be failures – or suspects, keyword "social fraud". Above all, they referred to the often inadequate education of job seekers, but overlooked the fact that more education did not create new jobs arise.
Butterwegge: "About 11 percent of the people who work in the low-wage sector have a university degree. Almost three quarters have completed vocational training."
Around "To create work", the reformers affirmed that more waiver was necessary – preferably with low-wage jobs. At the same time, unemployment benefit II must be as sparse as possible in order to make low wages attractive. The university expert Cologne even believes:
"Poverty is wanted. Poverty shows the millions of workers – ‘You will end up if you stop working’."
How do poor people deal with their situation? Olaf Kremer is a confident person – even with appointments in the Mannheim job center:
Kremer: "I exercise a right – absolutely."
No protest against structural poverty
Solidarity is also a matter of course in everyday life in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Stefan L. from Düsseldorf-Hassels:
Stefan L .: "A family from Bulgaria arrived here on December 29th. They have nothing. So we supported the family – raised money, bought groceries."
But why is there so little protest in Germany against social decline?
Kremer: "You should actually be very outraged about the situation – but it doesn’t happen. Actually, you should be upset about it."
Meral Karakoç from Duisburg thinks:
"People are often depressed, hopeless. They have no strength. They withdraw from society. They are invited to the job center – how often I have seen people who could not open this letter. They were afraid to open it."
She says about her own experiences:
Karakoç: "I was very emotionally affected. You didn’t look at that on the outside. Sporty, fit. always laughing . One application, the second, the third – each time cancellations."
With her daughter Gülara, she took part in demonstrations a few times: Why were there so few people, what do you think??
Karakoç: "I think that is also due to the fact that people are ashamed that they are affected – to show, here I am, I am poor. Inside you think you have never achieved anything in life. But the chances on the job market are just that. Many see this as ridiculous. "It doesn’t work anyway. We can’t change anything." Of course we can change something."
Radka L. at least has hope for her children:
"The big son is 16. He attends a secondary school, but in any case he wants to graduate from high school and start studying."
Is a future possible without poverty? In recent decades, the social product in Germany has increased massively – the economic conditions for reducing and even overcoming poverty are basically there.
The most important thing would be a return to full employment – of course, unemployment of three, five or more percent should not be declared full employment. And rising minimum wages could put an end to the business model "Low-wage sector" contribute. Another alternative would be redistribution – higher taxes for the rich. In this way, higher social benefits could be financed. As a minimum wage, Olaf Kremer suggests:
"As an individual – that should be around 1500, 1600 net."
That seems pretty unrealistic at the moment.
Poverty in Germany is increasing (dpa / picture alliance / Paul Zinken)
What will change with the many refugees?
Schröder: "Of course, if they come to Germany new, they will not generate their own income. If the refugees get to work through good integration, the quota would drop again."
Butterwegge: "The division between rich and poor can deepen through immigration if society is not ready to accept immigrants appropriately."
Olaf Kremer, Meral and Gülara Karakoç are committed to the new arrivals. They do not share the common fears:
Karakoç: "No, we have enough money in Germany for the refugees. Since the refugees arrived – the same thing is still in my fridge."
In any case, without a noticeable reduction in poverty, Germany is at risk of social disintegration, an even more dramatic division of society – as is already the case in the USA, England or France.
Kremer: "We are worth nothing less than others who may have a lot more."
Radka L .: "We are a life-sized fear. I’ve never had so many fears in my life."
Karakoç: "I think Hartz IV recipients are forgotten people. These are shadow people."
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