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Poverty gap widens in Germany

December 12, 2019

The Ruhr region in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia was considered "problem region number one," upending the narrative of an east-west divide. A new study urged the government to do more to eradicate poverty.

Dilapidated buildings in Duisburg-Bruchhausen in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia
Image: picture alliancedpa/H. Ossinger

Although the poverty rate has fallen across Germany, at least a quarter of 95 regions surveyed have witnessed an increase of 20% over the past decade, according to the Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband poverty report published on Thursday.

"Despite the good news that the national poverty rate has dropped to 15.5%, the gap between affluent regions on the one hand and poverty-stricken regions on the other is growing steadily and clearly," said the association's chief executive Ulrich Schneider.

Bavaria had the lowest poverty rate with 11.7%, while Bremen had the highest with 22.7%. What was once considered a divide between the richer west and poorer east no longer held true, Schneider noted.

Read more: Can a wealth tax bridge Germany's divide between rich and poor?

Living on the breadline

'Master plan for poverty eradication'

The Ruhr region was considered "problem region number one," according to the report. 21.1% of its 5.8 million people were estimated to be in poverty. The region is located in North Rhine-Westphalia — the most populous German state with a population of about 18 million.

Youth and the elderly were particularly at risk of poverty.

The study urged the government to enact a "master plan for poverty eradication" that would include boosting social welfare benefits under Hartz IV and raising the minimum wage to €13 ($14.50) per hour.

The poverty line in Germany is defined by how far household income allows someone to participate in society. Currently, whoever has less than 60% of the average income in a region at their disposal, is considered to be at risk of poverty.

Read more: German income inequality a cause for concern as east-west divide deepens

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Helping Germany's poor children

ls/rt (AFP, dpa)