Why is poverty so important in inner cities

Poverty in Germany. Forms, risk groups and development

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. The author's concept and forms of poverty
2.1 Absolute and relative poverty
2.2. New poverty

3. Development of poverty in Germany

4. Poverty Risk Groups
4.1. single parent
4.2. Children and adolescents
4.3. Old people
4.4. Homeless or homeless

5. Excursus: economic approach to the problem of "poverty"
5.1. Assessment of the standard of living
5.2 Political Philosophy

6. Support measures

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography

9. Online sources

1 Introduction

Since the 1960s, Germany has been one of the richest countries in the world, where for a long time poverty could be viewed as a socio-psychological problem for smaller marginalized groups. A public discussion about poverty did not take place and also within the federal German governments poverty was not discussed and for years it was possible to deny that large parts of the own population lived in poverty. It was not until the mid-1970s that the Rhineland-Palatinate Minister of Social Affairs at the time, Heiner Geißler, established the term “new poverty”. As a result, poverty within one's own affluent society was recognized as a socio-political problem. Despite countless years that have now passed, a solution to the problem is still a long way off.1 The subject of poverty is always politically explosive, even if the federal government has meanwhile made the fight against poverty one of the priorities of politics. This at least did justice to the transformation process in the course of the unification of the old and new federal states, and at the same time added another element to the change in the welfare state.

Most people in Germany associate the problem of “poverty” directly with the existential poverty that predominates in developing countries. Through our media-based image, we define “poor” primarily as people who have so few resources at their disposal that, among other things, hunger threatens their lives and livelihoods. This image often leads to the “poverty” that prevails in one's own society not being taken seriously. In many ways, Germany represents a welfare state that also supports risk groups or people in difficult situations - in many cases even more than many taxpayers would like. Reality shows that this idea of ​​a prosperous country where there is no poverty is a mere utopia. Compared to other countries in the world, Germany is one of the richest countries in the world. This mistakenly leads to the prevailing opinion that we in Germany are not affected by the problem of poverty. However, this picture distorts reality, because even if there is no existential poverty, there is a not to be despised number of people who have to live at the subsistence level or even below it. These people have to accept restrictions on the wealthier people.

Germany tends to be more egalitarian in its social structure, but social polarization is increasing significantly, so that the number of “poor” is increasing while the rich are getting richer.2 Popularly, this problem is often described as the “scissors” or “gap” between rich and poor. In research since the late 1980s, the topic of “poverty in prosperity” has been the main topic3 and in the 1990s, too, research on poverty was further advanced by social scientists. In particular, the enormous increase in poverty in the 1990s after reunification meant that the topic of “poverty” also came into focus in social policy.4 The present work tries to get to the bottom of the problem of poverty in Germany. First of all, poverty and the different forms of poverty should be defined in order to then be able to address the risk groups concerned in more detail. With the help of this, an attempt should be made to describe the development of poverty in Germany.

Subsequently, an excursus should be used to point out the complexity of the problem from the economic point of view. While as a member of society one often tends to view the problem from an empathic point of view, the economic point of view sharpens the "objective" view of the topic. Measuring the standard of living from this perspective shows how distorting statistics and their results can be or how incomprehensible they appear to us when we develop compassion. Someone who is defined as not poor on the basis of these “dry” calculations may in reality not be wealthy enough to meet the basic needs of children and families. A look back at the findings of political philosophy should show that there was a very early realization that economic “inequality” existed in our society and that ways out of this problem were sought. Even if the various approaches have hardly been used in practice, they do stimulate thought, because, for example, would not redistributing income be the solution to the problem? Do we, i.e. those who are not affected by poverty, perhaps not want this kind of solution at all? Would we be willing to forego our own capital in order to maximize the welfare of all members of society? Hardly likely. The approaches of political philosophy no longer seem to be timely, but in my opinion they still contribute a profitable part to the fact that one deals critically with the topic of poverty, but also with oneself.

For a final solution to the problem of poverty in Germany, but also in general, different approaches and changes are required in almost all socially relevant topics. This work should at least make it possible to make people aware of the urgency of the problem and to stimulate further discussion in order to reduce poverty and stop it from growing. For this reason, the present work also deals with potential support measures before concluding with a final consideration.

2. The concept of poverty and forms of poverty

Various terms exist within the scientific discourse to describe the phenomenon of poverty. “Poverty” generally describes a state of deficiency and is defined differently depending on historical and geographical conditions. The Council of the European Union describes “individuals, families or groups of people as poor if they have such limited material, cultural and social resources that they are excluded from the minimum acceptable way of life in the member state in which they live . "5

If one only refers to economic poverty, one has to distinguish between “absolute” and “relative” poverty.

2.1 Absolute and relative poverty

From a normative point of view, in the context of “absolute poverty” one describes the situation of inadequate securing of the physical subsistence level. This concept of poverty, which was developed around 1900 by the social researcher Seebohm Rowntree, tries to establish the standards that determine the subsistence level.6 Indicators include daily food requirements, living conditions, required clothing and health measures. If one falls below the absolute poverty line in the long term, this usually leads to death, for example through starvation, illness or freezing. At the international level, the World Bank's “one dollar definition” has established itself, which states that every person who has less than one US dollar a day lives in absolute poverty.7 The people affected by this are therefore unable to maintain a minimum standard of living and their physical existence is threatened. The United Nations estimates that around 1.3 billion people worldwide live in absolute poverty. Accordingly, households below a certain real income are poor. This fixed threshold defines the absolute poverty line. In this context, however, the question arises of how one defines this poverty line, which is why one usually measures relative poverty. This measurement is based on the poverty risk rate, which households with less than 60 percent of the so-called “net equivalent income” describe as poor. The quota thus indicates what percentage of the total population lives below the poverty line. Poverty is therefore a question of income distribution and not of income level. In general, however, there are some problems with measuring inequality, as both income distribution and the at-risk-of-poverty rate only provide a rough picture of inequality in living standards. This is particularly due to the fact that the income development over the life cycle is not taken into account and no distinction is made between permanent and transitory income. A person's income development follows a regular pattern over the life span. For example, students have low incomes and still would not consider themselves poor. It is also unproblematic that young workers generally earn less than older workers. These changes lead to unequal annual incomes, but are therefore not yet an expression of inequality in the sense used here. The distinction between permanent and transitory income is particularly important, because if one were only to consider permanent income, i.e. the average regular income, one would also exclude transitory income. Today's society in its complex structures makes it indispensable to also consider transitory income, as this income is influenced by cyclical fluctuations in the economy and thus also includes short-time work or short-term phases of unemployment, for example. Natural events can also affect permanent income. From an economic point of view, in this context economic mobility is referred to as the fluctuation of households between income classes. In this context, poverty is a long-term problem for a relatively small number of households.8

There are scientists, like Häußermann mentioned here as an example, who take the view that there is no longer such poverty in Germany.

The risk that someone in Germany might not be able to secure their physical survival at the beginning of the 21st century has been eliminated.9

Contrary to this view, it should be borne in mind that there are people in Germany who have no shelter and freeze to death in winter. Even if beggars and homeless people in the pedestrian zones of the big inner cities only represent a fraction of the people affected by poverty in Germany, their existence should not be denied. The term extreme poverty or the term subsistence is often used synonymously for the term absolute poverty.10

However, the term poverty as such cannot be viewed separately from the general standard of living of the population of a country, so that relative poverty terms are mostly used in economic and social science. I will present the exact way of looking at the standard of living from an economic point of view in the later course of this work with an economic discourse. Basically, "relative poverty" is a phenomenon of societal and social inequality. Ultimately, the term poverty in this context describes the comparison to a person's social environment and is associated with certain restrictions in key areas of life. In addition to basic physical needs, the indicators also include social and psychological needs.

2.2. New poverty

Like many other subject areas, poverty has been shaped to a large extent by pluralization and individualization. The paths into and out of poverty are very different nowadays, so that one can no longer speak of a homogeneous group of “poor”. The New Poverty is characterized in particular by a shift from old-age poverty to a growing risk of poverty for children and young people, mostly due to the unemployment of one or even both parents. At the same time, steadily increasing numbers can be observed in the area of ​​social assistance recipients and, at the same time, an increase in debt, which is particularly due to increases in rental and energy costs. Single parent poverty has risen significantly, as has the number of homeless people.11 The likelihood of being affected by poverty no longer only affects the elderly, the homeless and the handicapped, but increasingly large parts of the population and poverty now extends to the middle class.

3. Development of poverty in Germany

In order to present the modern development of Germany in the context of poverty, the focus should be on the development before and after reunification. In the social structure of the GDR, in contrast to the Federal Republic of Germany, there were no so-called “homeless people” and only a few social welfare recipients. There was no significant unemployment as the constitution guaranteed the right to work. Homelessness was countered primarily through low rents and subsidies from the state. In the GDR there was still the so-called latent homelessness, which included people who either involuntarily lived with other people or had to find accommodation in apartments in need of renovation.12 The results of some research showed that there were many people in the GDR who had to live at or even below the social minimum.13

The structure of the GDR was fundamentally different from that of the FRG. Deviations were, for example, that large families were no longer considered a risk group and that old-age poverty prevailed.


1 Neumann, Udo: Structure and Dynamics of Poverty. An empirical study for the Federal Republic of Germany. Freiburg i.Br. 1999, pp.10-14

2 Nollmann, Gerd / Strasser, Hermann (2002): “State of Society - Poverty and Wealth in Germany”, in: From Politics and Contemporary History 29-30 / 2002, p.19ff.

3 Huster, Ernst-Ulrich (Ed.) 1997a: Reichtum in Deutschland. The winners of social polarization. Campus, Frankfurt am Main, New York, page 2

4 See Klagge 2005, p.22ff.

5 See Westerhoff, Horst-Dieter: Poverty. Contribution to the homepage of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung: http://www.kas.de/wf/de/71.10457/ (accessed: September 18, 2014, 2:47 p.m.)

6 Rowntree, B. Seebohm: Poverty. A Study of Town Life. London: Macmillan, 1901

7 Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development: http://www.bmz.de/de/themen/armut/ Background/index.html (Access: September 12, 2014, 12:13 p.m.)

8 See Mankiw / Taylor, Chapter 19: Income and Discrimination

9 Häußermann, Hartmut (2003): Poverty in the big city: The urban structure increases inequality. In: Information on Spatial Development, No. 3/4, pp. 147-149

10 The concept of subsistence was introduced in 1892 by Charles Booth

11 See Müller (1997), p.29ff.

12 Geißler, Reiner 2014: The Social Structure of Germany, Wiesbaden, p. 253

13 See Geißler (2014), p.253

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