Latvia is a country with one of the widest income gaps in the European Union. This gap was expanded by the global economic crisis, which caused income levels in the country to decline by 19%. The IMF confirms that the economic recession very severely damaged the economy of Latvia. According to the Fund, “the richest 20 percent of the population (in Latvia) earn seven times more than the bottom 20 percent.” The IMF warns that these adverse conditions put Latvians at a higher risk of poverty.
The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism notes that the country does not provide adequate government-funded support for its poor. In fact, the small Baltic nation spends less on social welfare programs than any other European Union member state. For example, when compared to her northern neighbor Estonia, which spends 40% more per capita on social protection programs annually for the poor than Latvia, the lack of poverty-reduction programs from the Latvian government is quite conspicuous.
One of the most “at risk” groups in post-recession Latvia are single mothers. The cost of living has increased over the last few years, due in a large part to changes in tax policies which caused the price of heat and water utilities to rise significantly. The Baltic Center’s report highlights the struggles of a single mother living in Saldus, a town in western Latvia, trying to make ends meet in a small apartment with her two young children. The mother can’t afford to buy or run a refrigerator, so the family lives off of a meager subsistence of room temperature dry foods and water. The tiny apartment also does not have a shower, so the children are forced to wash in the gym locker rooms at the primary school, a school where they attend classes with no supplies because their mother doesn’t have the money to buy them.
The plight of single mothers in Latvia has prompted many of them to leave the country. The income provided from a minimum wage job in Latvia is simply not enough to support a woman with one or more children, even in the smallest of living spaces. The mother in the Baltic Center article earns only three euros a day and has been forced to ask her friends for donations to keep her family afloat. Three euros a day is hardly enough money for a single, childless woman to survive in a developed country, let alone a mother responsible for a family.
As the Latvian government comes out of the recession, politicians should propose welfare programs for single mothers living below the poverty line. Failure to confront this critical social issue will only result in increased emigration and a more extreme wealth gap.
– Josh Forgét
Sources: Baltica, The Washington Post