Is it really that bad to live in poverty?

Poverty in Germany

Poverty in Numbers

According to the Federal Government's 5th Poverty and Wealth Report from 2017, 15.7 percent of the population live in poverty or on the poverty line. That's almost 13 million people. For comparison: In 2002, 12.7 percent of all residents in this country were considered poor.

Poverty in Germany is growing. Sick and old people, low-wage workers and the unemployed, families with many children and single parents are particularly affected. Social organizations are particularly critical of the poverty rate among children, which at 19.7 percent is well above the average for the population.

What does "relatively poor" mean?

In a wealthy country like Germany, there is talk of "relative poverty": Anyone who owns significantly less than the average in this country is poor. Most of the time, relative poverty is related to income. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes those who have less than half the average monthly income in their country as poor.

Anyone who has to get by on less than 60 percent of the average income is already at risk of poverty. In Germany, the poverty line in 2018 for a single adult was an income of 1,135 euros per month.

Such statistical poverty lines are controversial because so-called income poverty does not adequately reflect social status. Factors such as the level of education or the social network also play a major role. However relative poverty is described, it is about the unequal distribution of opportunities to participate in social life.

Poor people die earlier

In contrast to relative poverty, absolute poverty threatens physical existence. Absolutely poor are people who can spend less than one US dollar a day. Nobody in Germany has to go hungry. Nevertheless, poverty also endangers life and health here.

Poor people in Germany are more often affected by illness and have a significantly lower life expectancy. A study by the Robert Koch Institute has shown that poor people die earlier than the average: women by eight years, men even by almost eleven years earlier.

Descent into poverty

The social cuts in recent years are noticeable: the introduction of unemployment benefit II and the cut in state support since 2005 are pushing unemployed people into poverty even faster. But it doesn't just affect people without a job: low wages have meant that many people are now at risk of poverty despite their work.

Single parents and their children, homeless people, people with a migration background and - through health reforms and high co-payments - are particularly at risk - the elderly, the sick and people with disabilities. Often several burdens come together at the same time, such as low income, insecure housing conditions, illness, psychological problems, insufficient training and social exclusion.

Poor, no apartment, no job

Once you are dependent on government support, it is often difficult to break free from this dependency. One of the worst effects of poverty is the loss of your home. A vicious circle: if you are homeless, you won't get a job. If you do not have a job, it will be difficult to find an apartment or it will not be able to afford one.

Those affected often get the feeling that they are to blame for their situation. This feeling is also conveyed to them from the outside. Many are depressed and insecure, especially if their situation has not changed for years.

Gerhard Trabert, who founded the association "Poverty and Health in Germany", comes into contact with such people every day in his work. In his opinion, those affected above all need someone who believes in their abilities: "It is important to give them appreciation."