More Money, More Problems

Germany’s Unemployment Plan Hartz IV Is Not Helping “Agenda-Aufschwung”

Opinion | Margaret Childs | December 2007 / January 2008

Unemployment is nothing to be ashamed of. At some time in their lives most people are, at least briefly, unemployed. The discussions over Hartz IV, Germany’s long-term unemployment plan, have become heated because of its associations.

German television is full of reality shows portraying problem children, couples or families and again and again, the refrain is, "I am a Hartz IV recipient." So the term has come to mean uneducated, self-absorbed parasites of society, because, well, these are the ones we see.

Oswald Metzger, former Member of Parliament for the Green Party was severely criticized in late November for comments about these welfare recipients, who are seen "stuffing themselves with carbohydrates or alcohol and sitting in front of the television." Their children "don’t study, are literally dumbed-down through various electronic media and start school as overweight six-year olds." Green Party leaders Petra Selg und Daniel Mouratidis found the words a bit harsh and have asked Metzger to apologize.

Politically unwise perhaps, but Metzger sees the proposed increase in Hartz IV as throwing good money after bad. "An increase in benefits for this kind of system will only magnify the degeneration."

Although the image of Hartz IV-recipients is one of victims of ignorance and neglect, the program is meant as a tool of emergency support, when all else fails. Hartz IV was intended as a temporary stop gag, a helping hand to reentry into the job-market. In January 2007, 1.3 million Hartz IV beneficiaries had a paid occupation, leading to resentment by the population that only work for a living.

But why does the state need to support families that already have steady income? Because they are not earning enough to support themselves and their families, a situation common particularly in the states of the former East Germany. The children of Hartz IV recipients are often born into poverty. Their sole role models are adults for whom the work place is unreliable, and whose jobs do not provide the main source of income, or who, as some analysts believe, don’t seek work because of the state-provided funds.

Chairman of the German Federation of Trade Unions, Claus Mateki says that employment has not increased as a result of the "Agenda-Aufschwung" (Germany’s economic recovery plan) of which Hartz is a part, and additional reforms to the job market should not be ruled out, Mateki said. "Hartz IV has as much to do with the current increase in prosperity as storks have to do with the birthrate."

Many of the 660,000 new jobs the Black-Red Coalition has created ensure neither sufficient income nor lasting employment, Mateki said. In the last economic boom of 1998-2000, when the economy grew at the same rate, the employment rate grew twice as fast. So while Oswald’s words may seem harsh, if the goal is helping citizens out of unemployment, more may be necessary than increasing welfare funding. What Hartz IV recipients need are well-paid jobs.

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