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Germany’s Recent FloodsFloods across Germany left hundreds dead and thousands displaced. The event not only caused mourning across the European continent but also created questions regarding Germany’s disaster response strategies. However, natural disasters like flooding do not occur often in the nation, so professionals believe that citizens will recover from Germany’s recent floods.

Flooding in Germany

During one week in July 2021, severe flooding occurred across Europe due to dangerous thunderstorms and rain. News sites and governments across the world stated that this natural disaster hit Germany the hardest. The country experienced nearly six inches of rain over 24 hours. Many call it the hundred-year flood. Of the 205 lives lost due to the flooding in Europe, 173 deaths occurred in Germany. Many of those people were located in the worst-hit Rhineland-Palatinate region.

While those missing are still being sought after, recovery teams state that they have little hope of finding any more survivors. However, professionals say that the death toll could have been worse. “The floods are very localized,” Dr. Andreas Sobisch, a John Carroll University political science professor from Germany, stated. “However, Germany does not often have these natural disasters. The floods are still a bit of a shock.”

The Response From German Officials

Germany’s recent floods put a halt to the country’s national electoral campaign for many candidates. Before the disaster, weather experts cautioned German authorities about the incoming rain and potential floods. However, the leaders chose to leave prevention and relief in the hands of local officials. Unfortunately, for many communities, there were no preventative actions. This led to heavy political discussions among the German populous. There are now discussions about what their current representatives will do for flooding in the future. According to AP News, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stated that many were using the disaster as a time for “cheap election rhetoric.”

Politicians like Angela Merkel are now looking to improve Germany’s disaster relief. She is promoting disaster-triggered phone alerts and improving the nation’s infrastructure altogether. Yet, political competitors are seeking to prevent catastrophes like this from ever occurring again. CNBC stated that those running in the upcoming election are using the floods to promote their campaigns against climate change. Multiple meteorologists claim that the floods were a result of global warming and that there needs to be an active battle against climate change.

How Citizens Are Impacted

Currently, thousands of people have been left without homes due to Germany’s recent floods and the number is only expected to climb. Rescue teams are still searching for the hundreds missing across the country while many citizens are left in shock.

However, on July 21, the German government passed a $472 million relief package for victims of the flood. The funds will be distributed soon. Local officials will oversee divvying out the money. The package is also meant to kickstart the rebuilding of some of Germany’s lost structures, including schools and hospitals.

Although many across the world expect Germany’s reconstruction to be costly, experts believe that recovery can be accomplished in a timely manner. On the note of recovery, Dr. Sobisch states that “Germany’s economy is the same if not better than the U.S.” and that “Germany will not be set back by these floods.”

How to Help Germany

Many organizations are currently working to aid the flood victims inside Germany. A few organizations are offering help, including the German Red Cross and the German Life Saving Association. The district of Rhineland-Palatinate also set up a direct donation program through bank transfers. Other districts followed suit with their donation information available via a search of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance’s online directory.

Laken Kincaid
Photo: Unsplash

about poverty in GermanyThe fourth-largest economy in the world and the most influential nation in the European Union, Germany plays an integral role in global politics. A parliamentary democracy based in Berlin, the country has experienced several regime changes within the 20th century alone. Despite a history of conflict, Germany has made much progress leading to exceptional growth, however, poverty in Germany still remains a challenge.

The History of Germany

In the early 1900s, the country had been unified under the banner of the German Empire. A decade later, it was one of the world’s leading economic and industrial powers, rivaled only by the United States and the British Empire. After its defeat in World War I, Germany was forced to pay humiliating reparations that indirectly led to the formation of the far-right Nazi Party.

Under Adolf Hitler’s reign, the Nazis consolidated control over Germany, engaged in vast human rights atrocities, and waged a global war against the Allied nations. Berlin was defeated for a second time, leading to a partition between East and West Germany, where the Soviets controlled the East and NATO controlled the West for the duration of the Cold War.

During this period, West Germany rebounded economically, becoming a global powerhouse. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signaled the beginning of reunification and Germany’s newfound place in the modern world.

Despite an expansive social safety net, poverty continues to brew in Germany. In the mid-2010s, Angela Merkel, the country’s chancellor, agreed to admit into the country hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.  A few years later, COVID-19 hit, throwing the nation yet another curveball. Through it all, Berlin has shown a keen ability to survive and adapt while maintaining openness and transparency, even as poverty alleviation remains a challenging goal.

5 Facts About Poverty in Germany

  1. In Germany, poverty is on the rise. Since reunification, poverty is increasing, with Berlin defining the poverty threshold as anything less than 60% of the average income. In 2013, that figure was 15.5% of the total population.  In the years since, it has increased to 15.9%. From an outsider’s perspective, this view of Germany seems contradictory. According to the World Bank, Germany’s poverty rate in 2016 — defined as $1.90 a day in 2011 — was 0%. This compared well with the United States, which had a poverty rate of 1% by the same metric.
  2. Germany retains a high standard of living. Pundits often overlook Germany’s high standard of living. This fact makes poverty comparisons confusing and difficult. Compared to most nations, Germany is fairly well off. The country’s GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power parity was $53,694 in 2020, higher than the United Kingdom, France and Italy.
  3. Over the past few decades, growth has been slow and steady. Since reunification, German economic growth has been mostly constant. Barring the brief contractions of 2009 and 2020, the German economy has expanded consistently. In 2019, German GDP growth of 0.6% was faster than stagnant Japan but slower than other developed countries such as the United Kingdom and France.
  4. German inequality is serious but manageable. Compared to the United States, Germany has lower levels of income inequality. In the same vein, however, the situation in Germany has not significantly improved since the 1960s. Income inequality remains much the same as it was several decades ago. Despite significant investment in areas like universal healthcare and free college, the German government has thus far failed to reduce income inequality by large margins.
  5. Germany has a life expectancy well suited to a developed nation. Germany has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. At 81 years in 2019, it surpasses the United States, which had an average life expectancy of 79 years.

The overall outlook for Germany is mixed. Its long-term prospects remain uncertain, with a steady yet slow growth rate and hard-set levels of income inequality. Under the surface, poverty continues to brew. But, all is not lost. The country benefits from an extremely high life expectancy and average per capita GDP. Furthermore, Germans are innovative people, building one of the world’s most successful societies in the post-World War II period. With more adaptability and innovation, the possibilities of poverty reduction are limitless.

– Zachary Lee
Photo: Flickr

gender wage gap in germanyData from May 2019 indicates that German women receive an average of 21% less wages than German men. Germany holds one of the largest gender pay gaps in the European Union, a gap that has since widened due to COVID-19.  As a consequence of the gender wage gap in Germany, German women endure poverty at a higher rate than German men. However, recent policies, lawmaking proposals and continued strong stimulus provide hope and solutions for a future of gender equality within Germany’s workforce.

The Gender Wage Gap in Germany

Despite the presence of Germany’s long-standing female chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the country’s overall reputation of upholding socially progressive policies, Germany holds the third-largest pay gap in the European Union as of 2017, ranking just behind Estonia and the Czech Republic. As of March 15, 2019, for every two lawmakers in Germany’s parliament, there exists only one female.

These pay gap inequalities force German women into poverty at a rate disproportional to men in Germany, much like the rest of the world. According to the European Union’s statistics office, 7.1 million German women faced poverty in 2017 compared to 6.1 million men. Furthermore, German women face a 16.6% risk of falling into poverty compared to a 15.2% risk for men, according to a 2021 report.

The correlation of a gender pay gap and poverty exists on an international scale as well. On September 14, 2020, the U.N. reported a global gender pay gap of 16%, meaning that female employees earn 84% of the amount their male equivalents earn globally. The global gender wage gap is especially divisive for women of color, immigrant women and mothers.

COVID-19 and Pay Inequality

According to a U.N. estimate on September 2, 2020, the U.N. expects the poverty rate for women to increase by  9.1% due to COVID-19. Germany is no exception to this global prediction. According to a Reuters report from May 14, 2020, 27% of women in Germany have had to reduce their working hours for child care purposes. In contrast, this percentage is more than the reported 16% of men (in households with at least one child younger than 14) who had to cut their working hours.

In addition, Reuters reports that this disparity is more likely in households with low or medium incomes rather than higher incomes. According to a BBC poll, German women reported facing higher financial impacts of COVID-19 than men. Roughly 32% of German women reported experiencing financial impacts of the novel coronavirus compared with 24% of men.

Closing the Gap

As the gender wage gap increases with the effects of COVID-19 both across the world and throughout Germany, hope comes in the form of advocacy, legislation and awareness. On March 4, 2021, the European Union proposed a law to compel companies to close gender pay gaps. The law also allows candidates access to salary information during interviews.

The law goes as far as imposing possible sanctions on companies that fail to comply. Under this proposed law, women employees can challenge employers when not equally compensated. The challenges then go through independent monitors with the goal to seek proper payment or treatment of all female employees.

Germany’s Successes

Additionally, Germany’s consistent social stimulus throughout 2020 and into 2021 provided great economic protections for the country as a whole. Germany excels in stimulus protections and aid when compared to the majority of the world. According to The New York Times, when the primary jobholder in a family of two parents and two children loses a job in the United States, the family retains 28% of their previous income. Contrastingly, the same family would maintain 75% of their income in Germany. The New York Times describes this as a “reflection of the country’s far more generous social safety net,” listing this outcome as one of the many benefits of strong, continued economic stimulus.

Overall, while Germany continues to combat the gender pay gap as an increasing number of women and girls enter poverty due to COVID-19, recent policies surrounding transparency, accountability and fiscal stimulus in the workforce provide much hope for the future.

Lillian Ellis
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees' Integration
Integration happens in the workplace, neighborhoods, schools and public spaces. However, problems can appear when many people enter a host state in the same period of time when they have different cultural and religious backgrounds. The European migration crisis is an example of this when a high flow of asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Europe in a short span of time. Syrian refugees’ integration presents Germany with some significant challenges.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

To clearly understand migration, it is essential to study terminologies. There are significant differences between the terms “asylum seeker” and “refugee.” An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In the E.U. context, “asylum seeker is a third-country national or stateless person who has made an application for protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention and Protocol in respect of which a final decision has not yet been taken.”

Meanwhile, refugees are “people who have successfully applied for asylum and have been granted a formal refugee status according to the Geneva Convention of 1951 (GCR) or due to authorizations to stay for humanitarian reasons due to specific national legislation.” In 2015, Europe nearly received 1.3 million asylum applications and almost one-in-five asylum seekers came from non-European countries. The leading origin countries of the asylum seekers were Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Asylum seekers from Syria numbered 378,000 (29% of all Europe’s asylum seekers).

The Flow of Refugees into Germany

The pull factors for asylum seekers are safety and security but they take economic factors into consideration as well. Better economic opportunities make the E.U. an attractive destination among asylum seekers. They risk their life to use dangerous and sometimes deadly routes to reach Europe. As a member state of the E.U., Germany was the essential destination country for asylum seekers. In 2015 and 2016, 1.2 million asylum seekers registered in Germany of which Syrian nationals were the leading group of origin of asylum seekers. In total, 424,907 Syrian refugees applied for asylum in 2015 and 2016.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy is the fundamental reason Germany is a top destination among asylum seekers. In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during her speech at the Federal Press Conference, announced emphatically, “Wir schaffen das,” meaning “We can do it,” effectively committing to a permissive asylum policy. Several days later, she stressed that there is no legal limit to the number of asylum seekers that Germany will try to accept from Syria. After permitting a significant number of Syrian refugees to enter Germany, integration became the main goal.

The German Integration Model

In Germany, there are several numbers of different stakeholders involved in the integration process of asylum seekers and refugees. The recognized refugees can participate in the labor market. The federal authorities of the country are responsible for implementing a legal structure for the integration mechanism. They also control language courses and access to the labor market.

The municipalities have a crucial role in the integration process and must implement federal or regional legislation. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) is responsible for evolving asylum applications and the execution of general and vocational language courses for refugees. Local education schools carry out the language courses, and in most cases, adult education centers or language courses are responsible for the courses. Furthermore, The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ control, assists asylum seekers and refugees in developing their skills and finding jobs.

Legislation for Migrants

Since late 2014, the German government enforced several new integration policies and changes that aimed to ease the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. In 2016, the new Integration Act emerged to promote mandatory participation in language training and civic orientation. Also, the hours of orientation courses increased from 60 to 100 hours. Still, the structure of language courses remained the same. Under the Integration Act, the condition of receiving permanent residence permits depends on the outcomes of integration. Refugees can obtain permanent residence cards after five years and they should reach the A2 level in German and ensure that they can finance their means of subsistence. Moreover, since January 2016, the government monthly pays was 670 euros per asylum seeker.

The responses of the German government still show room for improvement for better integration of refugees. Nonetheless, the fact that Germany has allowed so many asylum seekers access to it may have helped prevent catastrophe. At the same time, Germany’s new integration policies are helping Syrian refugees obtain better opportunities.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

COVIS-19 vaccine distribution
Vaccines for the COVID-19 virus are emerging at an increasing rate around the world. The COVID-19 vaccine distribution is a primary challenge for political leaders. Ensuring that everyone has access to vaccines is imperative to achieving global recovery. In many countries, COVID-19 cases are still at large. National leaders put individual national laws in place to fight against the rising numbers. Though they have helped lower those rates, the number of cases has not yet begun to level out. The vaccines that nations have currently distributed should curb those numbers further. This will allow vaccinated individuals to resume their pre-pandemic daily routines slowly.

Inequal COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Some countries have priority access to vaccines, which is largely due to national wealth. This leads to poorer nations not having the ability to purchase vaccines. To combat this for the betterment of global health, France, in particular, has begun to put forth ideas and efforts with the intent to help such nations gain access to vaccines.

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed that richer countries ought to transfer roughly 3-5% of their vaccines to countries in need. According to an interview with the Financial Times, he said, “This would have no impact on the rhythm of vaccine strategies (in rich countries). It won’t delay it by a single day given the way we use our doses.” According to Macron, German Chancellor Angela Markel has no problems with the initiative, and he hopes to convince the United States to share their vaccines as well.

African leaders have put forth the request for 13 million doses of vaccinations to help its population. The leaders plan to give a large portion of those to caretakers, allowing them to help patients in need. Currently, COVAX will be making accessible vaccinations available to African countries. However, the countries will use the vaccine only for emergencies. Thus, the calls for more vaccines are important.

France’s Plan for Vaccine Distribution

To help fight for better COVID-19 vaccine distribution in African countries, France has established a designated four-part plan to help affected communities efficiently. These steps include support of African healthcare systems, aiding African research and supporting humanitarian and economic efforts. The goal is for France to support various healthcare systems to ensure that patients and citizens receive the best treatment until a vaccine can be distributed. Until these countries have proper access to vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) will work with the financing they received from wealthier governments.

Many other countries worldwide are also working to help one another receive the help needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese scientists developed a vaccine that is currently in use in Hungary and Serbia. Beijing and Russia are selling and donating their own vaccines to nations abroad. If the number of cooperations increases in the upcoming months, there will be more vaccines available worldwide. Since the virus can still spread with mutations from other parts of the world, this is also crucial to rich nations’ national security.

– Seren Dere
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Germany
Human trafficking remains a major element of the world economy, despite the efforts of governments and international organizations to eradicate it. Traffickers traffick humans for a wide range of reasons, from forced manual labor to sexual slavery. In countries like Germany, a major European hub for immigration, human trafficking is particularly problematic. Here are five key facts to know about human trafficking in Germany.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in Germany

  1. Sex-related Trafficking: The majority of victims of human trafficking in Germany underwent trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Furthermore, sex trafficking in Germany disproportionately affects young women, including minors. Victims of sex trafficking in Germany are most likely to originate from Romania, Bulgaria, Nigeria or Germany itself, meaning that traffickers tend to target immigrants. This is likely due to the fact that immigrants in Germany are far more likely to live in poverty than German citizens. Illegal immigrants are even more at risk, as coming forward could result in their own prosecution.
  2. Germany and E.U. Recommendations: In 2013, Germany failed to implement European Union regulations regarding human trafficking into national law. This came after a two-year effort by the E.U. to implore its member states to adopt these regulations, which included tougher sentences and better protection for victims of human trafficking. A spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the government chose not to implement the E.U. recommendations because it did not extend existing jurisdiction on human trafficking to cases of sex trafficking.
  3. Germany has Received Criticism for Being too Lax on Trafficking: Non-governmental organizations have criticized Germany for not implementing strict enough laws on human trafficking. UNICEF Germany pointed out that under German law, convicting someone on the basis of forced prostitution is very difficult. Because German law places the burden of proof on the victim, traffickers can intimidate and blackmail victims so that they do not come forward.
  4. Human Trafficking in Germany and U.S. Recommendations: The U.S. government has recommended that Germany take certain steps to improve its response to human trafficking. These steps include revising the law concerning the burden of proof, because of the way it obstructs human trafficking victims from coming forward. It also recommended that Germany improve its apparatus for survivors of sex trafficking. These improvements could include better housing services on humanitarian grounds for victims. The U.S. government classifies Germany as a Tier 2 country, meaning that Germany does not entirely meet the minimum standards that the U.S. government recommends to fight human trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so.
  5. Immigration and Trafficking in Germany: Germany remains a hub for immigrants from all across Europe, Africa and Asia. As a result, Germany has a relatively strict policy regarding illegal immigrants. However, Germany’s strict laws on immigration have proven to damage the country’s efforts to counteract human trafficking. Underage immigrant sex workers who interact with German authorities often get into legal trouble for immigrating illegally, regardless of their status as a victim of human trafficking.
  6. Germany’s Success in Fighting Human Trafficking: Germany has had some major victories in its fight against human trafficking. In 2017, the German government increased victim protection efforts, as well as placing human trafficking specialists in immigration offices across the country. Additionally, the government helps to fund KOK, a German NGO that fights sex trafficking and protects migrants’ rights. The government increased KOK’s funding each year from 2016 to 2019. KOK lobbies nationally and internationally to make positive progress in its mission.

Looking Ahead

Despite Germany’s status as a standard-bearer for the E.U., it has a checkered record regarding human trafficking. While Germany’s protocols on human trafficking exceed the basic United States standards for the elimination of trafficking, there are areas in which the country could manage human trafficking better. Particularly, Germany’s large immigrant population provides a vulnerable target group for human traffickers.

– Leo Ratté
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Germany Foreign Aid
In 2019, Germany followed the U.S. as the second-largest donor to official development assistance (ODA). Historically, Germany’s foreign aid has focused on migration, forced displacement, food security and climate concerns. In its foreign aid policy, Germany aims to create lasting change in the nations it reaches. Here are eight facts about Germany’s foreign aid.

8 Facts About Germany’s Foreign Aid

  1. The BMZ Handles Aid: The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) primarily addresses the regulation of foreign aid. The BMZ is responsible for the development of policies, management of projects and the allocation of funds in times of crisis. Its support centers on several factors important to development, including “good governance, education, rural development, climate control, sustainable development, and a strengthening of the private sector.” Germany expects responsibility from the countries it lends aid to and thus does not grant budget support freely.
  2. The BMZ Does Not Work Alone: The BMZ works in accordance with other ministries, including the Federal Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense. The Federal Foreign Office addresses matters of humanitarian aid and, if a military presence is necessary, the Ministry of Defense offers assistance. KfW, a German-owned development bank, has also played a key role in Germany’s foreign aid contributions.
  3. Making UHC a Reality: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015 marked Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as a priority. UHC embodies the idea of having “all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.” Germany has committed to this ideal in three stages. Globally, Germany aims to strengthen health systems through technical and financial support. On a multilateral level, Germany endorses the P4HNetwork, which provides health financing, and the L4UHC leadership course, which helps in the development of partnerships. Lastly, Germany is aiding its partner countries directly in the development of necessary changes.
  4. Supporting Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance: Germany has donated to Gavi through the BMZ since 2006 and its support continues to grow. Chancellor Merkel “pledged EUR 600 million for Gavi over the 2016-2020 strategic period” in 2015. Providing immunizations across the globe, Germany’s support of Gavi enables a safer, healthier world.
  5. BMZ Unveils an Effective Reform Strategy: The BMZ’s primary goal remains the same; eliminating poverty and world hunger. However, the BMZ is changing how it aims to achieve this goal through new focuses, new partnerships and new modes of cooperation. BMZ has reduced its number of partner countries from 85 to 60 but has done so to maximize its efforts strategically. German foreign aid is attempting to establish peace and structure with its nexus and peace partners. By “strengthening [German] support for people in crisis and refugee regions, addressing the root causes and supporting them in the process of stabilization,” the BMZ is aiming to build up nations like Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
  6. Germany and Syria: In recent years, Germany has shown great support for the Syrian people. In 2018, more than 500,000 Syrian refugees resided in Germany. German support is not solely based on helping the refugees, however. In June 2020, as part of a conference jointly hosted by the E.U. and U.N., Germany pledged $1.78 billion to humanitarian aid for Syria.
  7. Germany and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Adopted in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development replaced the previous Millennium Development Goals. The initiative comprises 17 goals and ties together poverty reduction and sustainability. Within the decade, the United Nations wishes to address the most pressing concerns of poverty, female empowerment and climate concerns. Germany is one of many nations playing a large role in addressing these goals.
  8. An Endorsement that Looks to the Future: Alongside Ghana and Norway, Germany requested the establishment of a global action plan in April 2018. This request took the form of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All. The plan has united 12 agencies dedicated to health, development and humanitarian efforts, allowing each to strengthen each other while addressing the central SDGs.

The nation has proudly taken up the mantle of leadership and will serve as the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from June 2020 until December 2020. Germany promised additional ODA-funds in June 2020, dedicating $3.5 billion for “global health measures, humanitarian assistance, and overall development cooperation.”

Kelli Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Eradication in Germany
Historically, Germany has not been without its economic or financial hardships. Since the 1990s, nearly a quarter (or 15%) of Germany’s population has had the classification of being poor. What is Germany doing in the modern age to combat a significant and stagnant impoverished population? Additionally, why have Germany’s poverty rates not reflected the country’s staggering economic growth? Finally, how is Germany’s poverty-reduction legislation impacting refugee families? This article will illuminate the radical legislation and innovations about poverty eradication in Germany including what the country has implemented to reduce inequality, domestically and globally, in the 21st century.

The BMZ Behind It All

Poverty eradication in Germany began with the BMZ (a German-language acronym for the English-translated “Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development”). The BMZ is solely responsible for all affairs regarding poverty relief and economic development in Germany and abroad. In recent history, the BMZ has committed itself to addressing the underlying factors, circumstances and mechanisms that create poverty in the first place. In the early 1990s, the BMZ published international and domestic development goals which, to this day, influences the nation’s fight against poverty. Strong social welfare, personal incentive for work and widespread access to education reduced the national proportion of people experiencing poverty to as low as 7% in 2007.

At the time, radical steps like systemic reformations and direct focus on franchising majority impoverished groups of people were novel and began Germany’s repertoire as a powerful benefactor to its poorest constituents. With recent international crises (like the Syrian Civil War) and the advent of automation, however, Germany’s poverty line has all but slowly grown. However, a recent 6.1 billion euro ($7.2 billion USD) expansion of Germany’s social welfare program, Hartz IV (dedicated to long-term unemployment) spells relief for many displaced and at-risk peoples in Germany.

Young Families, New Challenges

Starting a family is, unquestionably, one of the most difficult and unique things a couple (or individual) can undertake. Additionally, it is no short order to both raise a young family while providing for it – and, sometimes, it is nearly impossible to maintain a “work-life balance,” which typically ends in financial hardship. Poor families are at risk to begin with; a new child may well be the tipping point into impoverishment, and the cycle only proliferates when families raise children in poverty. Enter one of Germany’s most radical pieces of legislation, the Parental Allowance and Parental Leave Act, created exclusively to alleviate the financial stresses that new families often face. New parents may receive up to 60% of their income for up to 3 years, addressing underlying systemic cycles of poverty, especially with already at-risk, younger individuals, rather than focusing on short-term manifestations of it.

Providing low-risk, low-stress economic stability for growing families almost ensures that the cycle breaks as well. As of 2014, only 9.5% of children in Germany lived in poverty, compared to the nation’s average of 14%. The Parental Allowance and Leave act has proven to be an extremely successful player in poverty relief in Germany.

International Commitments

Germany has not only invested in domestic poverty relief, it is also interested in working toward poverty relief internationally. Chancellor Angela Merkel has committed to doubling the nation’s UNDP core funding to combat the economic hardship that COVID-19 has brought on internationally. Germany has been the largest single contributor to the UNDP’s core resources since 2017 and has solidified that position by donating nearly $124 million to the core fund this year alone. What that means is increased spending power for the UNDP during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the UNDP predicts will cause the first reversal of human global development since the early 1990s. Germany’s increased budget for the UNDP will go to essential poverty relief efforts in 130 countries that the pandemic has greatly affected, providing assistance for hundreds of millions across the globe.

COVID-19 Relief in Germany

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Germany experienced its impact economically, socially and culturally much like the rest of the world. In Germany, the unemployment rate from March to April 2020 increased by 0.8%. Poverty rates have remained consistent as well, with surprising research showing that poorer workers are at no greater risk of succumbing to the novel coronavirus. What differentiates Germany’s COVID experience is its radical response and mobilization against the extreme economic fallout COVID spelled.

The German government has committed an unprecedented $868 billion relief package for its most vulnerable populations, small businesses and manufacturers. In addition, Germany has expanded wage subsidies for furloughed individuals and executed a tax slash of 3%. In this exceptionally trying time, Germany has revolutionized the way the world thinks about social security, and it stands that German citizens will feel the impact of this emergency poverty relief in Germany for decades to come.

Germany has been a litmus test as a standard for social welfare since the dawn of the modern age. Poverty eradication in Germany is a multifaceted, extensive and progressive approach to the seemingly Sisyphean task of battling poverty at home and abroad. Strong COVID-19 relief plans, the groundbreaking Parental Leave Act, a dedicated ministry of economic affairs and a commitment to international well-being makes for innovative anti-poverty measures that are paving the way for the world.

– Henry Comes-Pritchett
Photo: Getty Images

Homelessness in Germany
The latest stats by the Federal Association of Homelessness Help (BAGW) show that there were 678,000 homeless people in Germany in 2018. This figure marked an increase of more than 4 percent between 2017 and 2018. The majority of these people sleep in emergency quarters, while 41,000 sleep on the streets.

Causes of Homelessness

In Germany, there are several factors that contribute to homelessness. One is the decreased number of social housing units. Social housing units have reduced by 60 percent since 1990 as the government continues to sell its stock of housing units to private investors. Additionally, there has been a decrease in affordable housing, particularly in large cities and urban centers. Studies show that housing costs in Germany are among the highest in Europe. This affects those with incomes below the poverty threshold, as well as young people (ages 18-24). Munich is reported to have the highest prices for both renting and buying houses in Germany. Berlin, which is said to be at the center of housing shortages in Germany, could account for about 20 percent of the country’s homeless.

Finally, the increase in immigrants has greatly contributed to the rise of homelessness in Germany. The immigrants are from other European Union countries, particularly Eastern European, and are also refugees and asylum seekers. It is estimated that 440,000 of the homeless are migrants. The number of homeless people with migrant backgrounds rose by 5.9 percent compared to a 1.2 percent increase for those without a migrant background.

Housing Rights in Germany

In large cities and urban centers, such as Berlin and Munich, the homeless set up makeshift tent camps in parks and other open spaces. During the winter, in an attempt to avoid the adverse winter conditions, they relocate to U-Bahn (underground railway) stations. Law requires German municipalities to provide basic emergency accommodation to those at risk of homelessness. Various municipalities and NGOs are providing temporary and emergency housing services.

In addition, the Social Code in Germany stipulates that the risk of losing a home entitles the owner to some form of assistance. Covered by the municipalities, this could be a loan or allowance for rental debts. Of the 16 German states, only four of them have the right to housing enshrined in their state constitutions including Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg and Bremen. However, regulation throughout the country still establishes the right.

Current Efforts

In 2018, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to spend €6.85 billion on solutions to homelessness. She announced that the federal government would aim to build 1.5 million new housing units and 100,000 new social housing units by 2021. There are also more immediate relief efforts that individuals and German cities provided. For example, the city of Berlin is offering a warm hall in Kreuzberg as an alternative to the U-Bahn stations the homeless would stay in during the winter. Entrepreneur Matthias Müller is doing his part to help the homeless in Germany by introducing a shower caravan in Berlin. Matthias transformed a bus into the shower caravan, which is a unit with a sink, shower and toilet so that homeless women can maintain personal hygiene. The caravan is also accessible to people with disabilities.

Solutions

BAGW estimates that Germany needs 200,000 new affordable housing units each year to manage homelessness. The federal government, various municipalities and NGOs could also work together to emulate Finland’s Housing First approach. In this method, the goal is not to have temporary or emergency accommodation, but instead, permanent housing and needs-based support. This way, instead of just managing homelessness, Germany could end it completely.

– Sophia Wanyonyi
Photo: Flickr

Anti-Refugee Sentiment
On October 2, Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, held a nationwide referendum to address growing anti-refugee sentiment. Orban asked the question, “Do you want the European Union, even without the approval of the Hungarian parliament, to be able to prescribe the mandatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?”

Resoundingly, 98 percent of voters backed the government’s opposition to the EU refugee acceptance quotas, even though Hungary would only have to accept 1,300 of the 160,000 refugees taken into consideration by the distribution plan. Although voter turnout was only around 43 percent, the rejection of refugees and belief in their inherent dangers is no anomaly.

Anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiment is spreading across Europe, especially in the wake of major terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris, Nice and the everyday acts of violence consistently occurring throughout Europe. Opposition to refugees also heavily fueled the Brexit vote.

Within the Visegrád Group, an alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, refusal to accept refugees is at its peak. The Czech Republic and Hungary have only accepted 520 and 146 refugees respectively in the last year, a drop in the ocean of millions needing asylum.

In 2015, Hungary also built a heavily guarded, razor wired fence along its southern border to control the flood of migrants into Hungary. Many have criticized the country for treating refugees “worse than wild animals;” some have even called for Hungary to be temporarily or permanently expelled from the EU for its behavior.

Even in more accepting countries like France and Germany, growing fear and misunderstanding have lead to more anti-refugee and anti-Muslim policies. More than 20 French mayors have refused to lift their bans on the “burkini,” a full body swimsuit worn mainly by Muslim women, even though the national court system has deemed the ban unconstitutional.

Even in Germany, the biggest proponent of refugee acceptance, anti-refugee sentiment has spread. After several regional elections went to the far-right, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, plans to take a step back from her heavily controversial open-door refugee policy.

Although the current situation for many refugees may seem bleak, the future may well be brighter. Even after several devastating attacks in France, French president Francois Hollande is still holding firmly to his open refugee acceptance policy. In Syria and Iraq, as well, the end seems to be near. After capturing Fallujah, allied forces have now moved on -to Raqqa, the ISIS capital, and Mosul. The U.S. and EU can now begin to rebuild infrastructure and resettle the remaining refugees.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr