What does real poverty mean?

Poverty Report 2017 - What does poverty actually mean?

Anna Schilling and her husband Klaus had actually taken precautions. A total of 10,000 euros was in the savings book. “For the day when we are no longer”, as Anna Schilling says. For a decent funeral, a decent coffin. So as not to be a burden for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “But now it's just the thin wooden box,” says Klaus Schilling and takes a sip from his Radeberger bottle. Every month, wife Anna has to withdraw something from the savings account because her rent and his place in a nursing home consume almost the entire joint pension. 67 euros remain for her to live. Before the social welfare office steps in, the savings account must be looted, up to 1,600 euros.

Her friend Elfriede Goldmann is sitting next to Anna Schilling. She no longer has money worries. She pays a high rent for assisted living in the "Havelpalais", the same senior citizens' home in which Klaus Schilling is accommodated. But she can afford to go on vacation four times a year. Her husband has died, Elfriede Goldmann is receiving a widow's pension in addition to her pension. Since she's been alone, she has been able to make ends meet, at least financially.

Hardly anything differentiates the biographies

Anna Schilling and Elfriede Goldmann do not live in different worlds. You live in bourgeois Potsdam between the prefabricated building and the world cultural heritage. They meet every Friday for a senior coffee from Volkssolidarität within sight of the Havel. Klaus Schilling drinks his Radeberger, the women around him take filter coffee. They are all well over 80, have children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. You worked, sometimes part-time, sometimes full. In the GDR, which shaped her professional life, there were no great differences in wages. And when the Federal Republic came, they were already close to retirement age. Hardly anything differentiates the biographies of these seniors. But at the end of their journey, one has to turn every penny while the other is financially carefree.

Is Merkel right - or Schulz?

Two women. Two lives. Two truths. But a Germany. And a question: How is this country doing now? And above all: how are his people?

This debate reappeared with force at the beginning of the election year. Like no other, it touches the core of social coexistence. You polarized. And it can be decisive in the federal elections in the autumn. It is now about the existential. About exclusion. About participation. And the question of who is right now. CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel with her sentence: “The people in Germany have never been as good as they are at the moment”? Or your SPD challenger Martin Schulz, who says “a lot has gotten out of hand”?

In the senior citizen's café on the Havel, where Anna Schilling and Elfriede Goldmann drink their coffee, both are true. One is fine, the other is bad. And neither can really help it. The example of the old ladies shows that there is no such thing as one truth. That evidence can be found for one and the other point of view. And that the debate is being conducted ideologically like no other.

A question of numbers

Statistics on poverty and wealth are easy to interpret in one direction and the other, depending on your point of view. Take salary, for example: earnings have also risen in lower income groups over the past 25 years - albeit less strongly and with significantly greater fluctuations than in the general population. The difference becomes even greater if one looks at the development of wages in the top 60 percent of the income scale. Then it turns out: the scissors are parting. Another problem lies in the different raw data that underlie different statistics. The EU statistical authority Eurostat, for example, uses different values ​​in its analysis of income and living conditions in Europe than the Federal Statistical Office for its microcensus. The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) collects another statistic with its Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). Caution is advised even with supposedly simple statements. Unemployment is falling, there is no doubt about that. At the same time, however, not only traditional but also atypical employment relationships such as mini-jobs and temporary work are growing.

Joint welfare association presents poverty report

It's that time again on Thursday. Then the Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband and other social associations present their poverty report 2017. The press releases have long been written. The charities will emphasize how great the risk of poverty is in Germany. How unequal the distribution of wealth. And they will call on the federal government to take countermeasures with a change of course in social policy.

The business associations will dismiss all of this as alarmism. You will refer to the steadily growing wealth. The unemployment rate that has been falling for years. And they will appeal to the federal government not to make expensive social promises during the election campaign so as not to endanger the competitiveness of the German economy.

Both sides will at least provide proof: that the answer to the question of whether Germany is poor or rich depends not least on one's own point of view. And that tough interest politics are made with her.

Maybe a look at the sober numbers will help. According to the Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat), every sixth German was at risk of monetary poverty in 2015. 16.7 percent of the total population, about 13.4 million people. The value has remained constant compared to the previous year. However, that says little about the development of poverty and wealth. And a lot about how poverty is defined.

Statisticians define poverty in relative terms

Statisticians in Germany and Europe operate with a relative concept of poverty. You define poverty using the mean income, the so-called median value. That is the value from which there are as many higher incomes as there are lower ones.