Many of my classmates spend their holidays in Dubai or the United States, drive the BMW or Mercedes of their parents to school and in their jean pockets they probably carry the latest smartphone. I do not go to an expensive private school in Berlin or live in an exclusive neighborhood in Munich. I am a student at a “normal” “Gymnasium” (public upper school) in southern Germany, but I am still very much secluded from teenagers on the other hand of the social ladder. Why?
According to the World Bank, everyone is poor who has less than 1.25 US-Dollars (worth 2005) to spend each day. This means that nearly no poverty exists in Germany.
In Germany, everyone who has less than 60% of the average income is considered poor. In 2016 this applied to 16.1 Mio. people, which is one-fifth of the population. The threshold for poverty are 1.033€ per month for a single living person and 2.170€ for a family of four. Other reasons for poverty are also the inability to pay the rent or mortgage, heating the home or having one nutritious meal a day. At risk of falling into poverty, are mainly unemployed, single parents, immigrants or those with a low education level. In addition people in the west are, generally, richer than in the east and people in the south richer than in the north of Germany.
The federal state supports everyone who is unable to earn enough money to make a living. Every unemployed receives monthly “Arbeitslosengeld II” (known as Hartz 4), financial aid aimed to ensure everyone a life of dignity and social integration. In addition, there are many social organizations like the “Deutsche Tafel e.V.” which sell food for a cheaper price, pass on second-hand clothing or enable children private tuition.
Living in Germany does not only mean that you are safe from hunger or homelessness. It also means that you want to keep a certain social status and be integrated into society. Therefore, it is important to recognize that also in a rich country like Germany a considerable large number of people are struggling day-to-day to fill their fridge or pay for the children’s school trips. The federal government ended the year 2016 with a budget surplus of 6.2 Billion Euros. Why not invest this money in the ones who feel left behind and are afraid of losing their jobs to the large number of migrants who have come to Germany since 2015?
When I drive home from school I ride my bike past a “Hauptschule”. There I can usually see some overweight teenagers smoking and drinking from fake Cola-bottles. While my classmates at the “Gymnasium”, which prepares students for a university career, are likely to become teachers, doctors, engineers or lawyers, students at the “Hauptsschule”, which mainly prepares for apprenticeship, seem destined to stay on the edge of society for all their life. The German school system which sends students to three different schools has often been criticized for separating children according to their social class. Educational equality is one of the first steps to be taken before the German government can narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and create a fair and free society.
– by Schirin H.