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Millions poor despite Germany's wealth

Thirteen million residents in Germany live below the legally defined poverty line or are at risk, despite the country's wealthy reputation. Germany's statistics bureau also says solo parents are especially affected.

Every sixth member of Germany's population faces impoverishment, according to findings of a household survey presented on Wednesday by the agency based in Wiesbaden. The level is the highest since such data was first collated in 2005.

A person at risk of poverty has less than 11,426 euros annually or 952 euros per month, including transfers from social welfare sources, at his or her disposal. This measure of relative poverty is set by asking who gets less than 60 percent of a nation's mean disposable income. 

The latest statistics for the year 2010 show that 12.8 million residents or 15.8 percent of the population were at risk. The impoverishment average among the EU's population of around 500 million was 16.4 percent.

Gathering of poverty statistics via household surveys began in Germany in 2005, prompted by European Union legislation.

Solo parents families hardest hit

The Wiesbaden bureau says solo parents with children account for 37 percent of all persons facing poverty. Households with two adults aged under 65 were far better off, with poverty only affecting 11 percent of them.

Last month, a four-yearly poverty report released by Germany's labor ministry showed that the gap between rich and poor is widening in Europe's largest economy.

The study showed that in 2008 the wealthiest 10 percent of Germany's population owned 53 percent of all assets. By comparison, around half of all households owned just one percent.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is facing a federal election late next year, was quick to rule out a redistribution of wealth, possibly via higher taxes on the rich.

Trade unions argue that the gap between rich and poor has been exacerbated by labor market changes that have kept labor costs down and unemployment relatively low in comparison with other eurozone countries facing high debt crises.

ipj/sej (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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