Working Poor on the Rise in Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.05.2005
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Working Poor on the Rise in Germany

The number of people in Germany holding two or three jobs in order to hold their heads above water has been alarmingly high for years. Now a government study has finally recognized this phenomenon.


Working hard and still not making enough to pay all the bills

The day begins early for Harry Dauben, usually around 5 a.m.

With brisk steps, he makes his way from mailbox to mailbox. He is delivering the Cologne newspapers, just as he does each morning, six days a week, rain or shine. Today, he has to also deliver a portion of his sick colleague's route and he is already sweating.

"I get enough exercise," he pants.

He has to hurry -- because all of the 240 papers have to be distributed within 90 minutes. And after, he will drive his rickety Toyota to his next job, dispatching letters for a private delivery firm.

He earns 950 euros ($1,220) each month, with which he pays rent, gasoline and child support for his two sons. And when the money doesn't cover his costs, he works afternoons and evenings delivering pizza -- which pays for mileage and food -- or he does one-off painting jobs to make ends meet.

50-hour work week

Dauben is one of those Germans who, despite employment, perches on brink of the poverty line.

The number of working poor has for years been alarmingly high, according to a recent government study entitled "Poverty Despite Employment." More than one million full-time workers in Germany earn less than half the average national income. These people usually have two or three jobs at the same time. They are frequently low-skilled workers, toiling more than 50 hours per week for very low wages.

Bochum Protest bei Opel

Fighting to keep their jobs, whatever the wages

Jörg Hönning sits at his cubicle speaking through a headset in a call center in Cologne. The work is monotonous -- a modern assembly line, he says. But the 32-year-old needs the job.

His degree in computer science hasn't allowed him to find work in the field. So he works on the telephone for 6.50 euros per hour, which nets him about 400 euros per month. That just covers his rent, so he works on the weekends to earn more driving a taxi. And if he is lucky, he can make another 90 euros this way.

Earning about 700 to 800 euros, even though he works more than 50 hours per week, Hönning buys shoes for a few euros on the Internet and jeans with Christmas money from his parents. But to the government, cases like his shouldn't exist.

"With full-time employment, one should be able to earn enough to put oneself above the poverty line, and guarantee a decent standard of living," according to the report.

But those words mean little to Hönning.

"The question is what one requires," he said. "I have scaled down my needs. At this point, I need money for food, and rent."

Keep wages low, economists say

The question is: what next? These days, the pressure is on to keep wages down. Economists such as Hilmar Schneider from the Bonn Institute for the Future of Employment say that additional employment costs need to be kept down for the further development of low-wage sectors. And competition within these sectors should be expanded

"What we have to care for is to make sure to make basic work attractive again," Schneider said. "But there isn't really any danger for the highly qualified or specially qualified workers."

That is cold comfort for people like Hönning.

"I guess that means I will work on every day but my birthday," he said.

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