What hobby screams rich people 1

The divided country

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That's for sure, isn't it? At the start of our series The topic let's clarify how deep The social division in the country real is who it hits the hardest and whether it actually gets worse. An honest analysis.

I am constantly discussing with others how we can overcome the social divide. That brings the work for My basic income so with yourself. Lately, these conversations have often taken an unexpected turn: it is no longer just the ways out of inequality that are controversial - but also the existence of inequality. Wait what ?!

How can it be that people who live in the same country as I do not see the gaping gap between poverty and wealth that I encounter every day at work and in everyday life? Is it just their tactic to stall the debate about solutions to the social divide by simply denying the problem? Or are you right in the end and my social worldview is simply wrong?

Time to take stock: How divided is Germany really? Is the famous social gap widening or not?

Poor despite work

At least 15.9 percent of all people were affected by poverty in the past year. This is the highest poverty rate since reunification. In fact, there are many more: Hundreds of thousands of homeless people, people in homes or refugees in collective accommodation are excluded from this statistic.

Who are the 13 million people who are officially poor because they have less than 60 percent of the median income of all households to live on? To get rid of a cliché that I come across again and again in the discussions mentioned: It is not "only" the unemployed and people without a German passport, but above all single parents or families with many children, low-skilled people and pensioners.

A third are poor even though they go to work. Another third is receiving a pension that is insufficient for a life in dignity. Just under eight percent are unemployed. I was surprised by these numbers.

New data on the top percent

What it looks like on the other side of the social division, among the rich, is not at all easy to determine. Wealth is better measured by wealth than by income, but wealth is more difficult to measure. Only last summer did researchers of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW)To collect data that is not based on estimates.

Since then, it has been clear that the distribution of net wealth is even more unequal than assumed. The top percent in Germany owns around 35 percent of net assets. So far, this proportion had been estimated to be significantly lower at 22 percent. And the 45 richest families own as much as the entire poorer half of the population. You can just stand and let it sink in.

"In almost no other country in Europe is wealth so unevenly distributed as in Germany," states the Hans Böckler Foundation. The so-called Gini coefficient, which is used to measure inequality, increases from 0.76 to 0.81 as a result of the new data. When it reaches 1.0, the maximum inequality is reached.

Tell me what you deserve - and I'll tell you where you live

The social divide can be seen not only in numbers, but also on the map: In terms of income from work, two cracks run through the middle of Germany, one between north and south - and a second, deeper one, still between east and west.

Statistically speaking, anyone who works in Baden-Württemberg has an average gross annual income of EUR 46,620; in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, an average of only EUR 33,690 is earned. The salary comparison of the web portal Salary.de lists all five eastern German federal states in the bottom ranks.

Of course, nobody expects that there will be no pay gap at all in a country like Germany. After all, the cost of living and the concentration of occupational fields also differ from region to region. But such factors do not just explain the difference of 13,000 euros between the north-east and south-west of the country - after all, more than one year's basic income!

Income poverty in the east gradually declined for years, but an equalization of living conditions seemed possible decades after reunification. Last year, however, income poverty grew again here for the first time.


In our new series The topicwe illuminate this time The social division. How much does poverty or wealth determine our lives - and can we somehow overcome this divide? Discuss with and subscribe to our newsletterso as not to miss anything.


Opportunities for advancement or fear of relegation?

Which side of the social division you are on is one thing. Whether you can get away there with your own effort or with outside support is another matter. How good is our society at promoting the rise out of poverty?

The answer is sobering: Social mobility upwards is steadily declining, according to sociologists in a current study for the Ministry of Labor. In the eighties, 37 percent of people in poverty remained poor after five years, all others made it to the next higher social position. In the past decade, 60 percent were still stuck in poverty five years later.

The data are "alarming in places," says the head of the research group, Olaf Groh-Samberg, of the weekly newspaper The time, Poverty is becoming entrenched in parts of the population.

Opportunities for advancement are decreasing, but the danger of social decline seems to increase: Those who live at the bottom of the statistics today were often part of the middle of the economy in the past. The middle class shrank from 63.4 to 56.3 percent of all households between 1991 and 2014. Fear of social decline is a mass phenomenon: 83 percent of all Germans worry about the gap between rich and poor.

Corona makes things worse

All of these data come from before Corona. The pandemic has exacerbated the social divide, for all we know. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, 40 percent of the workforce had lost income - while 50 percent were expecting a slight increase in income, including many pensioners.

Prosperity helps on many levels to get through the pandemic more easily. If you have reserves, you don't fall so quickly. But "people who previously had little are particularly often and particularly hard hit by economic losses," says Prof. Dr. Bettina Kohlrausch in a study for the Hans Böckler Foundation.

The state aid measures apparently do not counteract this sufficiently, despite their scope, because they do not target the socially disadvantaged enough. The poverty researcher Christoph Butterwegge calls this a "distribution policy imbalance". In any case, "unlike the medieval plague, the pandemic has a socially polarizing effect and not an equalizing one."

A new debate

Germany has one of the most expensive and therefore best social systems in the world, the people counter me with whom I have to discuss the existence of social divisions. Right.

But this brief analysis makes it clear that, despite the high social investments, we are not able to reduce this divide or offer sufficient opportunities for advancement - or even cushion the worst social consequences of the corona crisis.

That's why I always say to my interlocutors in these moments: "Stop it. Change the subject!" Right now, I don't want to talk anymore about whether there is a social divide - but how it affects each and every one of us and how we can overcome it in perspective.

We'll start today.


What do you think? Do you agree with our analysis? Have we overlooked important facts? In our survey on The Topic: The Social Divide your opinion counts. Or write us in the comments here. Thanks for taking part!

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