The proportion of relatively poor people has risen in all of the old federal states over the past ten years. A city-state is hit hardest, but the rate is also increasing significantly in Hesse.
IIn a rich country like Germany, poverty is a highly sensitive issue. Even over the fundamental question “How many people in Germany are poor anyway?” Disputes regularly arise because poverty is not that easy to measure.
In principle there are two possibilities: To answer the question, you can use absolute values. The World Bank, for example, defines those people as extremely poor who have less than $ 1.90 a day to spend. This means that extremely poor people are unable to buy the amount of goods that would cost $ 1.90 in the United States every day. This $ 1.90 is considered to be the financial minimum a person needs to survive.
In the affluent societies of the West, the standards are higher. The Basic Law, for example, states in Article 1 that human dignity is inviolable. According to jurisprudence and common sense, this dignity also includes the opportunity to participate adequately in social life. In Germany, 1.90 dollars a day is not enough for this.
Therefore, in developed industrial countries, particular attention is paid to relative poverty. People who have less than 60 percent of the median income of the population as a whole are considered to be “at risk of poverty”. For Germany this means: two adults with two children under the age of 14 were able to spend less than 2,385 euros a month in 2018.
Surprise: fewer poor people in East Germany
This Thursday, the Federal Statistical Office presented new figures on the at-risk-of-poverty rate. According to this, relative poverty increased in all western federal states and in Berlin from 2009 to 2019. The rate rose the most in Bremen; in the city-state in the north it increased by 4.8 percentage points to 24.9 percent. In other words: in Bremen every fourth inhabitant is poor or at least threatened by poverty.
In Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia, too, the risk of slipping into poverty rose by more than 3 percentage points to 16.1 and 18.5 percent respectively. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, on the other hand, recorded the strongest decline nationwide, from 23.1 percent in 2009 to 19.4 percent in 2019.
The situation improved in all of the eastern German states. It fell particularly sharply in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Here the rate fell from 23.1 to 19.4 percent. Overall, around 16 percent of the population in Germany are at risk of poverty.
However, the relative measurement of poverty is regularly criticized. One of the main arguments is: If one were to double the income of all people in Germany (and leave the prices the same), according to this method, just as many people would be at risk of poverty as before.
Against this, it can be argued that a better method of measurement has not yet been found. There have been many approaches in recent years to allegedly better define and measure poverty. But none of them are indisputable.
And anyway, the objection that a relative measurement says little is at least problematic. If two adults and two children have a maximum of € 2,385 a month to spend, you are safe in an area where most people believe that living conditions are becoming increasingly poor.
Nevertheless, one important argument can be raised when welfare organizations and politically left-wing people complain about “more and more poverty in Germany”. At least since 2015, the proportion of the relatively poor has increased, mainly because Germany has taken in more than 1.8 million refugees, who almost always entered the country almost penniless.
This very noble and altruistic policy led and inevitably leads to the fact that there are now more poor people in Germany. Because economic advancement is hardly possible that fast, even with the best will.