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Germany: 16 million people below poverty line

Based on current statistics, more than 19% of Germans or about 16 million people, live below poverty line while the average pension is 700 euros with a tension to decrease

by Zissis Papadimitriou*

Germany has by far the strongest real economy among the EU member-states, but this does not mean that social wealth is distributed equally. The picture presented by the Greek mainstream media for the economic situation of the German people, stands far from reality.

Neoliberal policies started by the previous government coalition of Social Democrats and Greens under Gerhard Schröder, continued by the current government of the Big Coalition between Christian Democrats, Christian Socialists and Social Democrats under chancellor Angela Merkel in the name of growth and brought huge profits for the capital without, however, improve life conditions for the majority of the German people.

The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger as wealth is concentrated in the hands of few, a characteristic feature of the famed globalization with the financial capital on top.

Just only one look at the data of the Statistical Service of the country is enough for someone to ascertain that, nearly the last twenty years, workers gained minimal remuneration increases, while living conditions for the unemployed, for those who have insecure jobs and for pensioners, have worsen significantly.

While according to the trilateral agreement of the government parties, a minimum amount of 8.5 euros per hour has been enacted for salaries, businesses have already mobilized mechanisms to undermine the deal, a fact which could be turned against the government of the Big Coalition.

Although unemployment percentage is relatively low, around 7% but tending to increase, the future of the German economy does not look bright at all, since its progress depends significantly on exports, a fact which, indeed, highly concerns German political and economic elites.

Based on current statistics, more than 19% of Germans or about 16 million people, live below poverty line. It is worth to note that the average pension is 700 euros with a tension to decrease.

Nearly 4.2 million people live with the social benefit of 382 euros per month (Hartz IV) plus benefit for cheap housing since rents in free market are quite high and therefore unaffordable for people with low income, a fact which forces them to search for house in downgraded urban areas. Thousands of migrants that reach the country lately experience insecurity, while being brutally exploited as searching for jobs.

The German media recently focused on the free moving, throughout EU, of Bulgarians and Romanians from January 1st of 2014, as citizens of EU, because there is a concern about a possible big wave of immigration from these countries, especially of Sinti and Roma, something which will put the German social state under testing. This was pointed in the first place, by the leader of Christian Socialist party of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, bringing signs of instability for the government of the Big Coalition.

The German media continuously refer to this situation since the beginning of the new year and this is something that further strengthened xenophobia. Although xenophobia is not expressed publicly yet, this fear grows underground and threatens peaceful co-living between people since the neonazi tensions become stronger especially in former East Germany.

Although people hesitate to be expressed freely concerning the presence of foreigners in their country in order to avoid to be characterized politically, their concern is obvious and this hides a great danger for a new form of fascism in European societies.

In the dividing lines between the countries of the North of EU (Germany, Holland, Austria, etc.) and those of European South, another dividing parameter has been added through the entrance of the former East Block countries in the EU which are treated, more or less, as a second-class Europe and this is something that puts in doubt Europe's economic, political and social completion.

Being myself a visitor in Germany for the Christmas holidays, I noticed the degree of rapid change of the German society, as well as the change in everyday life of people, something which enhanced the concerns about the future of the EU since Germany plays a central role in the economic, political and social progress of the European construction.

In central parts of cities and spaces of cultural events, like for example museums, operas, etc., one can observe a new phenomenon of local and foreign beggars, who bring memories of old times and of Dickens' novels scenes. One can also see young beggars in railway platforms who try to avoid police disturbance by carrying a backpack pretending to be travelers!

Given that there is a rise of the extreme Right in Germany as well as in the other European core countries and countries of the European periphery, like Greece for example, there is a great danger for extreme political perceptions to dominate. The further course of the EU will be determined, to a great extent, by the new political balances between parties in the European Parliament after the oncoming euro elections in May.

* School of Law, Economics and Political Science, Department of Law, at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki-Greece

Free translation from the article in Greek language here:

  Corrected according to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany


  1. Anonymous30/1/14 11:16

    There is about 80 millions inhabitants in Germany. 19% of 80 millions is equal to 15 or 16 millions, not 23 millions.

  2. You are right. The percentage is the right one therefore we are talking about 16 million, will be corrected.


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