Situated in the Balkans, Kosovo, officially known as the Republic of Kosovo, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. However, only 110 U.N. member states acknowledge its status as a sovereign state. Notably, Serbia, Kosovo’s chief opponent, does not recognize its independence and considers it part of Serbia. Furthermore, Serbia’s international allies, including Russia, hamper Kosovo’s bid for EU membership due to the lack of recognition. The combination of limited international security and economic instability has prompted Kosovo’s application for EU membership. The following are seven facts about poverty in Kosovo and why EU membership is so controversial for the country.
7 Facts about Poverty in Kosovo
- High poverty rates: Around 40% of the population of Kosovo live below the poverty line, and 17% live in extreme poverty (living on less than $3.20 a day), as defined by the BTI Project. Poverty is widespread, especially in rural areas. The country’s poverty rate is notably higher than its closest neighbor, EU member Bulgaria.
- High unemployment rates: Unemployment in Kosovo was 24.6% in 2020. The BTI Project reports that youth unemployment is exceptionally high at around 50%. This is, in part, because the country is not a great exporter and its workforce has a very high percentage of low-skilled workers. As with poverty rates in the country, unemployment is far worse in rural areas. In the EU, unemployment only averages 6% and youth unemployment is 14.5% in 2023.
- Low social safety net: Kosovo has a minimal social safety net, with no real unemployment benefits, maternity allowance or child benefits. The country only spends around 3.6% of its GDP on health care and social security. In comparison, the EU has an average of 20.5%.
- Corruption problems: Office abuse, especially corruption, remains widespread despite political leaders’ promise to fight it. The Kosovo Anti-Corruption Agency fails to convict members of the political class, and this undermines Kosovan institutions and the state.
- Remittance-dependent economy: Kosovo’s economy is significantly dependent on remittances from the diaspora of Kosovans worldwide. When the pandemic hit and much of the diaspora funding dried up, what followed was a noticeable uptick in Kosovan poverty indicators.
- Low minimum wage: The Kosovan minimum wage is one of the lowest in Europe. The minimum wage is just €250 net per month. For comparison, the U.K. minimum wage for adults is £10.42. This minimum wage has been a significant part of why many working-class people in the country are in poverty.
- Slow economic growth: Kosovo’s economy is growing, but the progress has been slow. The nation’s economy has been growing steadily since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008, with Real GDP increasing by 3.5% in 2022. On the bright side, this has aided poverty reduction.
There are NGOs working in Kosovo to help improve these poverty metrics. One example is Caritas, a Catholic humanitarian organization that provides various services to vulnerable groups, including the poor, elderly and children. The organization’s programs focus on education, health, social protection and emergency assistance. Originally becoming active in Kosovo in 1992 to help tackle one of Europe’s highest poverty rates, Caritas continued its commitment and now employs more than 600 people in the country.
Despite the significant challenges Kosovo faces regarding poverty and economic instability, there are organizations like Caritas working tirelessly to make a positive impact. Its dedication, alongside other NGOs, offers a glimmer of hope for the future and the potential for positive change in the lives of those affected by poverty in Kosovo.
– John Cordner