The island nation of Malta, located off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, has been ruled by a variety of nations over the centuries because of its strategic location in the sea. It was not until 1964 that it received its independence from the United Kingdom. It is one of the world’s smallest countries, but it still has its struggles, especially with hunger in Malta.

In 2015, it was reported that 16.3 percent of the Maltese population was in poverty. Additionally, the percentage of children under 18 and adults over 65 who were victims of poverty were 23.4 and 21 percent respectively. Hunger in Malta is obviously linked to poverty, because these people cannot afford to adequately feed themselves and their families. Many even said they were unable to keep their homes warm enough during the winter.

There are currently 21,000 children at risk of poverty in Malta, most of whom come from large families or single-parent households. In both cases, the household income is below the poverty line and is not enough to feed them or give them a decent upbringing. Children from these families cannot even begin to think about getting an education because their nutritional needs are barely being met.

While there has been a relatively steady, albeit small, reduction in the rate of hunger and poverty in Malta, under the administration prior to that of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat there was a significant increase. The poverty rate jumped from 20 to 24 percent and food prices were rapidly increasing, making it even more difficult for Maltese people to feed their families. The very slowly growing income rate has not been able to counteract the rapidly rising cost of living in Malta.

While it has been said that Muscat has “no interest” in addressing the challenges of people of low economic status, he at least pledged to increase the minimum wage. While this is not by any means a grand plan for the reduction of poverty and hunger in Malta, it is at least a step in the right direction. Additionally, the previous head of the National Party indicated his hopes for the improvement of conditions for Maltese people in poverty, indicating that the party would do what it could to decrease poverty.

In December 2014, an official plan was set in place for poverty reduction. The plan from the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity puts 94 strategic actions in place through 2024.These strategies address poverty from specific angles such as social services, health and environment, culture, income and social benefits, education and employment. However, there are flaws in this plan too, as the ministry says part of the plan is to “empower vulnerable groups to become less welfare dependent.” This does not imply any concrete action, and suggests that Maltese people in poverty can simply “become” wealthier.

There is much to be done in Malta, and hopefully the government will put in place more concrete strategies for lifting their people out of poverty and reducing hunger. Until then, the ten-year plan will have to suffice, and should have some positive impact on people in poverty.

Liyanga De Silva

Photo: Flickr

Youth Unemployment Rate in GreeceThe youth unemployment rate in Greece has reached tremendously high levels and is resulting in the growth of poverty among young Greeks, in addition to stunting the development of the Greek economy. As of May 2017, the youth unemployment rate in Greece reached a staggering 46 percent. This rate means that roughly half of the Greek youth population are unable to find employment opportunities.

Looking at the high rate of youth unemployment, one factor can be seen as its primary cause: Greek debt.

In 2011, due to its ballooning debt levels and fears that Greece would default on its debt, European counterparts were forced to give Greece a bailout package of 109 billion. As part of the loan, however, major credit rating agencies gave Greece a rating along with a disclaimer saying there would be a substantial risk of default on Greek debt.

By giving Greece this rating, the country pushed away potential investors in the Greek economy, and, in combination with the effects of Greek austerity programs, substantially hurt the growth potential of the Greek economy. The adverse effects observed in Greece are exemplified by the fact that the country’s economy has contracted by a quarter since the crisis began.

The minimum wage in Greece is calculated differently for younger people than it is for people over 30, so young Greeks who have a job are often paid at a significantly lower rate than older workers.

As an overall effect on poverty in Greece, the high youth unemployment rate will very obviously impact the country and raise its poverty rate. As the Greek economy continues to deteriorate and young people continue to go without opportunities to work, the poverty rate in the country will inevitably grow.

Going hand-in-hand with the increase in the rate of poverty among young people in Greece is the level of youth homelessness. As the unemployment rate continues to climb, the rate of homelessness among Greek youth – in addition to the rate of substance abuse – both continue to rise.

Overall, the youth unemployment rate in Greece is elevating enough to become a significant issue requiring foreign assistance to resolve. As countries capable of proving support, the United States and Greece’s European counterparts must increase aid to help Greece combat this problem. By focusing efforts on increasing the success of the Greek economy, issues such as youth unemployment will certainly begin seeing improvement.

Garrett Keyes

Ending months of negotiations, Germany’s legislature voted on a minimum wage law mandating $11.61 an hour. The vote passed despite opposition from both trade unions and businesses calling out the program’s potential flaws.

The vote is considered to be a piece of landmark legislation for Germany, as in the past wages were set via agreements between employers and employees. Before this vote, Germany was one of a group of seven countries in the European Union who did not have a national minimum wage.

Opponents of the legislation, however, are outraged over some changes to the legislation in the eleventh-hour before the vote. Citizens under the age of 18 do not fall under the protection of the new law. Opponents claim that having a minimum wage would prevent younger citizens from being able to hold an apprenticeship.

For the first six months after the law is enacted, those who have been without employment for a long period of time will also fail to be covered by the law. Supporters of this restriction claim that if the long-term unemployed were paid $11.61 from the point of the law’s enactment, it would just make it more difficult for the unemployed to find jobs.

Compulsory work placement, something which mainly affects students, will also not be covered by the new minimum wage law, along with newspaper publishers for two years.

According to the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers, around 160,000 newspaper sellers will be affected by the lack of pay and the total number of people who won’t be covered by the new law is approximately 3 million.

There are around 7.1 million people in part-time employment in Germany, according to a 2012 report. The report also stated that around 4.8 million people were unemployed.

“These exemptions hit the most vulnerable in the labor market, of all people,” said Frank Bsirske, the head of the white-collar trade union Ver.di. “Millions of people will continue to be exposed to the arbitrariness of starvation wages.”

The bill has also drawn criticism from the European Union executive body. According to László Andor, the European Social Affairs Commissioner, the European Commission requires that countries who are members of the E.U. have a minimum wage that includes everyone in order to prevent citizens from falling into poverty even though they may be employed.

German economists and lobbyists for many of Germany’s businesses have argued against the minimum wage bill as well; stating that a rise in the minimum wage may run the risk of driving prices up for consumers and could potentially end thousands of jobs in the weaker regions of Germany.

Supporter of the bill argue, however, that having a period of time to allow businesses to adapt is necessary.

“This has dominated the political debate in our country for ten years,” said Labor Minister Andrea Nahles, one of the supporters for the bill. “It’s coming now and that’s reason to celebrate. Millions of employees in this country will finally get a fair wage.”

– Monica Newell

Sources: World Socialist Web Site, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Arab News

minimum wage
An ongoing dispute occurred in Windsor as Ontario workers rallied to protest for a raise in the minimum wage. The Ontario government raised the minimum wage to the current $11.

“The increase is a good start,” said Canadian Union of Public Employees’ President Fred Hahn, “but still not good enough to bring workers over the poverty line. It needs to be $14. At $11, that means somebody working full-time is not making enough to be above the poverty line.”

According to the Raise a Minimum Wage campaign, the current increase still has full time minimum-wage workers earning 16 percent below the poverty line.“We have to do this because we owe it to our kids, and their kids,” said Hahn.

Currently, there are approximately 500,000 people in Ontario earning minimum wage, according to a Statistics Canada report done in 2011. However, not all workers will receive the same raise in their pay.

Students under the age of 18 will receive a 70-cent raise instead of the 75-cent increase the majority of workers will receive. Liquor servers will only receive a 65-cent raise. Farm workers are completely excluded from the raise in salary.

“$11 per hour is a start,” said Paul Chislett, a representative with the Windsor Workers Action Center, “but it’s not enough. We’re trying to reduce the levels of inequality.”

The last time the minimum wage was increased in Ontario was in 2010. The increase in wage is meant to help the citizens and reduce some of their expenses. According to the National Household Survey released this year, 3.3 million households in Canada are paying more than what they should for housing—approximately 30 percent of their monthly salary.

“I believe the minimum wage should be $14 an hour,” said Leticia Boahen, one of the many minimum wage workers in Ontario. “Yes, $11 is great, but it is still not a living wage. It is not something that families can survive on. That idea that you hear from right-wing Conservatives that $11 is for entrants…it’s not accurate. There are many racialized workers, immigrants, people in the food industry—who are being paid below the $10.25 they should be paid—that are struggling.”

Currently, there is no official poverty line in Canada. Statistics Canada reported that 14.9 percent of Canadians have ‘low income’ but the group is hesitant to label that group as poor. In 2008, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that poverty had been steadily rising in Canada since the mid-1990s.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business states, however, that an increase in the minimum wage would be a detriment to businesses and may end up costing Ontario citizens jobs instead of easing them out of poverty.

However, supporters of the raise state that a higher minimum wage can only help the economy and elevate the 5.5-6.6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product poverty costs Ontario each year.

“It circulates,” said Hahn. “When you give people money in their pocket, they spend it in their community. It helps everyone.”

– Monica Newell

Sources: CBC (1)CBC (2)The Windsor Star
Photo: Linked In

labor unrest
Protesting has emerged in Cambodia since the first of 2014. Chevron employees demand wages to be increased from $110 to $160 a month. Over 200 workers from the multi-million dollar company, Chevron, have organized a strike for salary increases. The strike has forced 17 of Cambodia’s Chevron gas stations to temporally close until the strike is over.

The Chevron employees have also been joined by several of the country’s garment factory workers in protesting to raise not only the company’s wages, but the national minimum wage to $160 a month.

Because Chevron is a U.S. company, Cambodia is reaching out to the U.S. government officials for help. The thoughts among Cambodia’s factory and service workers have pushed the labor unrest to continue. Laborers in Cambodia‘s large textile industry staged strikes and protest late last year and in the beginning of 2014 for a higher minimum salary and has steered toward political resistance.

The Cambodia Daily states that local worker “Ly Heng, a 29-year-old gas pumper at the Stung Meanchey station, said he is only paid $75 per month and wanted to join the strike but had feared losing his job.”

Chevron released a statement stating, “We are disappointed that our unionized service station colleagues have taken the drastic action to stop work instead of following legal processes to resolve the matter that would have enabled us to continue the supply of fuel products and minimize inconvenience to the public.”

Chevron has been working with authorities to ensure the safety of civilians and the workers participating in the strike.

In the past, Cambodia has seen a fair share of wage strikes. The garment factory strike was a great success with an estimate of over 200,000 workers that participated. This made it one of the largest garment-worker strikes in the history of Cambodia.

So far this year, factories in Cambodia have enforced an inspection of current safety related policies due to the six deaths related to a garment factory accident. The deaths have resulted in not only a strike, but further inspections on current wage circumstances in Cambodia.

The strikes from the garment workers have inspired other members of the work force to fight for higher wages.

Teachers demand $250 a month because the current $75 a month is not a livable wage. According to the Cambodian Independent Teachers Union, there are 87,000 teachers in the country. Several of these teachers protested for higher wages, shocking Cambodia with the current salary that they receive.

The strike ended with Chevron’s agreement to increase the monthly wage by $20 back in May. The agreement stated that workers would head back to work and end the strike. The Chevron cashiers will have their salaries increased to $150 and petrol pumpers will make $130. Also, the Chevron employees participating in the strike will not receive a pay dock from the time spent during the wage strike.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: The Associated Press, The Diplomat, Global Post
Photo: VOA

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro raised the country’s minimum wage by 30 percent in May 2014. This marks the second time the standard has been raised this year, which, in total, accumulates to a 43 percent increase since the end of 2013.

These measures were implemented to help citizens overcome the country’s crippling inflation. Over the past twelve months inflation has risen by 59 percent, a staggering rate that exceeds any other country in 2014.

The new minimum wage is expected to provide the equivalent of 657 U.S. dollars a month for the citizens of Venezuela.

Aside from porous economic fundamentals, mass popular unrest may have influenced the President’s willingness to take action. Violent protests have pervaded the the country for the past two months, leaving 41 Venezuelans dead. Demonstrators are demanding greater government intervention to improve the prospects of middle class families.

The escalating situation has pressured Maduro to remain proactive. The President recently issued a statement promising that he will take the necessary steps to ensure inflation is conquered within the next year.

“If another increase is needed, the working class can rest assured that I will do it,” Maduro told laborers in the nation’s capital.

Although inflation has plagued the nation’s current financial woes, economists blame past government policies for the recent recession. Hugo Chavez’s rule oversaw decades of price controls and currency manipulation, inefficiencies that have stymied growth and facilitated an unhealthy dependence on imports.

Economists are also pessimistic about Venezuela’s future. Many see the recent minimum wage adjustments as purely reactionary responses that will further accelerate inflation and exacerbate the government deficit.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Venezuelan opposition party has criticized Maduro for not doing enough. Henrique Capriles, Maduro’s opponent in the last election, maintains that the minimum wage raise should have kept pace with inflation.

Although protesters continue to call for Maduro’s resignation, the President remains steadfast in his commitment to help Venezuelans through this difficult time as he claims, “I am a worker president committed to the class that works and struggles.”

Unfortunate for his re-election prospects, many citizens remain unconvinced.

— Sam Preston

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg
Photo: TT News Flash

Bolivia Minimum Wage
In the wake of recent national economic gains, Bolivian President Evo Morales has promised that the nation’s minimum wage will increase by 10 percent.  The move is a hotly debated one concerning Bolivian unions, and the employer federation has been embroiled in the debate for some time.  The labor unions applaud it, saying it would equalize things between the “haves and have-nots,” while the Confederation of Private Entrepreneurs (CEPB) spurned it and contended that it would increase taxation.  A BBC report also notes that President Morales is in an election year and may have had political reasons for siding with union wishes.

The same BBC piece also points out that “Bolivia’s gross domestic product tripled to $27 [billion] in 2012 since Mr. Morales took office in January 2006, according to World Bank figures.”  Changes to the national Constitution and increasing the role of the state contributed to the gains, along with “high commodity prices and a prudent macroeconomic policy.”  The World Bank also states that public debt dropped vastly, bolstering the banks in the process and alleviating national poverty to a great degree.

However, despite the gains nearly half of all Bolivians still live in poverty.  The unpredictability of commodity pricing can affect and potentially reverse positive gains, so private industry must play a more substantial economic role.  Bolivia’s informal economy, where a large portion of the population finds work, “results in lower productivity” according to the World Bank.  Lagging infrastructure is also a deterrent to further and faster progress.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting slower economic growth in Latin America in 2014.  “Weak investment and subdued demand for the region’s exports held back activity in 2013… For 2015, the IMF projects a modest pickup, to 3 percent. The key risk is a sharper decline in commodity prices caused by weaker demand.”  More specifically, growth in Bolivia “is projected to fall sharply in 2014, to about 2.75 percent  from nearly 6 percent in 2013.”

President Morales may be trying to draw support from his political base with his pledge to increase the Bolivian minimum wage.  In 2013, Morales was publicly inveighed when per diems paid to the families of Morales and his vice president were worth “more than twice the minimum monthly wage,” according to an AFP report.  The money covered travel expenses when the families accompanied the leaders on official trips.  Political rival Adrian Oliva likened the per diems to stealing and contended that Morales had abandoned his socialist roots.

The science behind hiking minimum wage rates is contentious to say the least, often crossing the proverbial bridge from impartial observation to political overtones.  However, the work of UC Irvine economist David Neumark and William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Board can’t be easily disputed.  A Forbes report said they “determined that 85 percent of the best research points to a loss of jobs following a minimum wage increase.”  Empirically, the wage increases aimed at eliminating poverty also quash private sector employment and hiring; a study in the Journal of Human Resources posits that higher minimum wage can increase poverty.

What lies ahead for Bolivia and the rest of the Latin American region remains to be seen as outside economic forces control the commodity rates that are so woven into recent economic gains.  In a race for political power and reelection, Bolivia’s Evo Morales has evidently chosen to adhere to the populist vision that won him initial favor, but at what cost?

Do large-scale informal economic gains qualify as a national victory when nearly half of all Bolivians are still considered poor?  Does alienating the private sector through a push for more reforms mean greater prosperity and long-term economic growth and stabilization?  What is clear is empirical evidence suggesting that minimum wage hikes do more harm than good, even in a strong commodities market.  President Morales may be best served to explore other options that appeal not only to national unions and workers but to the firms who employ them, thereby increasing private investment and paving the proverbial road out of Bolivian poverty.

– Dave Smith

Sources: BBC, WorldBank, Free Malaysia Today, Global Post, Forbes
Photo: Interet General Info

Following recent labor union protests in Bolivia, demanding an increase in the minimum wage, President Evo Morales has acquiesced to their demands by increasing the Bolivian minimum wage 20 percent from 1,200 Bolivianos (around $175) to 1,488 Bolivianos (about $215). This increase in the minimum wage has come as a result of a small but concerted effort on behalf of the Bolivian Central Labor Union to agitate for change. Workers were concerned that their wages were not keeping up with inflation, which is currently sitting at 6.5 percent.

Morales explained the reason for the increase in the minimum wage is the economic growth Bolivia has experienced recently, which grew at a rate of 5.2 percent in 2012.

The leader of the Bolivian Central Labor Union, Juan Carlos Trujillo, stated that he asked Morales to recognize “the need and the obligation to create a salary structure which is based on the country’s growth and the recognition that the riches of Bolivia have to be shared between the haves and the have-nots in equal measure.”

Other groups were not so pleased with the announced rise in the minimum wage, saying that the move would simply result in workers paying more through taxes. Moreover, the move can also be seen as political maneuvering and as an attempt to curry favor amongst the workers in time for presidential elections in October, when Morales is going to run for a third term.

The original proposal by the government was for the minimum wage to be increased by 10 percent, until trade unions negotiated a higher rise. Analysts have noted that the increase in the minimum wage would not affect the majority of workers since most people earn above 1,400 Bolivianos (about $203.) The rise would affect house workers and trash men.

Morales himself was a notable leader in the cocalero trade union movement for indigenous coca growers prior to being elected president. Since being elected president in 2006, Morales has helped triple Bolivia’s gross domestic product to $27 billion.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: La Razon, BBC, Bolivia Information Forum
Photo: Nation of Change

How the Government of Lithuania is Bettering the Lives of its PoorWhen one thinks of poverty-stricken countries, the first one that comes to mind is not Lithuania. The small Baltic nation, however, has been dealing with serious poverty problems since it became independent in the early 1990s. Lithuania was, in fact, the first republic to break away from the USSR in 1990. In 2009, the economy took a turn for the worse. GDP dropped 15%, interrupting almost two decades of steady fiscal growth. Nonetheless, the recession did not fatally injure the Lithuanian economy. The resilient nation recovered quickly, enlisting the investment of foreign interests in Lithuanian enterprises while capitalizing on the strength of trade relations with Russia, Latvia, and Germany, among other countries.

Lithuania’s seemingly instantaneous recovery from the recession is amazing, especially considering the extremity of the economic downturn in the Baltic states. Her ability to exploit chief exports such as textiles, plastics, and heavy machinery has given the country the diversified type of income that facilitates longterm budgetary growth. What truly sets Lithuania apart though is the shocking rise in the minimum wage that took place last year. In 2012, the monthly minimum wage was raised almost 25% from around 850 litai ($850 US dollars) in January to 1000 litai ($372 US dollars) in December. This has significantly raised the status of the poor in Lithuania, where a measly 4% of the population is now living below the poverty line. Prior to 2009, a little over 20% of Lithuanians were on or below the poverty line, unable to meet basic daily needs.

This change illustrates the way in which a government, faced with insurmountable challenges, can institute economic policies that positively impact the well-being of the working poor. When compared to its neighbor Latvia, where the monthly salary from a minimum wage job does not fulfill minimum subsistence level requirements, Lithuania is doing significantly better. Lithuania did not allow the economic crisis to distract from the problem of the minimum wage, implementing sound laws to raise the status of the poor. In the wake of the global recession, other Baltic countries should follow the example of Lithuania and raise the minimum wage. The poor will be much better off for it.

– Josh Forgét

Sources: The Baltic Course, Bloomberg, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Russia and the Wealth Gap
Russia is a massive country with a population of 143 million.  With 18 million people living in poverty in Russia, however, the issue of alleviating poverty has become a serious issue for the administration of President Vladimir Putin.  According to the Russian auditing company FBK, the minimum wage in Russia is grossly incompatible with the cost of living. The average monthly living cost is 210 US dollars/month in Moscow.  The average monthly salary for a minimum wage worker there is 155 US dollars.  Statistics from the government of Russia indicate that the wealthier classes have been hoarding wealth at an exponential rate while the abject poor remain stagnant.  There are currently 97 billionaires in Russia, and their wealth is only increasing.  The fall of the Soviet Union was the impetus for this growing income gap, as moguls were able to take advantage of an increasingly more free-market economy.

On a positive note, poverty levels have gone down in Russia since the late 1990s, when over 20% of the population was below the poverty line.  Russian sociologist Natalya Bondarenko notes that “15 to 20 % of Russians (in the late nineties) considered their income enough only to buy food as opposed to just 5 to 6 % of Russians who say the same thing now.”  President Putin has also alluded to a policy in which politicians as well as the heads of companies would be required to make their salaries public.  Hopefully, the government of Russia will take steps to confront the issue of extreme poverty within her borders.  In order for stability to be maintained in post-Soviet Russia, the Motherland must look after her children.

– Josh Forget

Sources: The Telegraph, Forbes
Photo: Guardian