An Arte documentary shows how the middle class is bleeding out across Europe and how an explosive precariat is developing. “It’s a crossroads. Either we find a fundamental change or we drift towards neo-fascism or populism,” Guy Standing alarmed. The British labor economist sees the existence of the middle class increasingly threatened.
The corona pandemic has additionally accelerated this bleeding of the middle class. The middle class, actually the backbone of every society, seems to be collapsing under the burdens – such as the steadily rising housing costs.
“Even now, the low-income earners no longer have any resilience after all the crises. Inflation devalues wages even more, while the low-wage earners no longer have a safety net.” Millions of people are being told that they have to “adapt to insecure work,” Standing laments. It is also worrying that “people can no longer identify with their work”. Work and life lose their meaning.
Around a third of all employees in Europe now live in insecurity. Although people have work, sometimes even several jobs at the same time, they barely make ends meet. They form a new social class that economists like Guy Standing call the “precariat”. According to Standing, between 2011 and 2019 more and more people slipped into precarious circumstances.
“This is mainly because many governments have cut public spending, such as social assistance. At the same time, however, the income of higher earners is growing,” complains Standing. The gap between rich and poor is widening. In Germany, one percent owns a quarter of all wealth, but the bottom half of society only owns one percent. Inflation and the unpredictable energy crisis are now hitting the poorer classes particularly hard. Their growing fear of poverty leads to a feeling of social exclusion and also to doubts about democracy.
The film accompanies poorer people in their everyday lives. “The migrants are allowed to come and accommodated in a comfortable apartment,” complains a 46-year-old cleaning lady from France. “I think it’s good when the Front National really runs through here with a broom.” The angry Frenchwoman hasn’t been on vacation for three years and earns 1,100 euros a month.
Your hourly wage is 9.90 euros. “13 euros would be appropriate,” she says. She hasn’t gone to the polls for a long time. “I don’t care about politics. I don’t vote anymore. That’s no use,” she is sure. At the same time, social protest movements are increasingly being used by right-wing populist parties for their own purposes. Geographer Christophe Guilly believes the rise of the right is a consequence of previous liberal policies. “Trump’s election victory, for example, is a consequence of Bill Clinton’s election victory,” he explains.
The gap between rich and poor is growing not only in Germany or France. Even in Sweden, which many still regard as a social paradise, the social gap is widening. One in five pensioners there lives below the poverty line, and women are particularly hard hit. The Swede Leila has spent almost her whole life as an educator and nurse.
To make ends meet, she lives in social housing and shops for the needy in the social grocery store. She also knits hats that she sells. The 63-year-old has just 250 euros to live on. “I haven’t bought any clothes for three years,” she says. “I also have to go to the dentist.” But the worst thing is this uncertainty as to whether I will be able to pay the next bills. Economist Standing quotes Confucius: Insecurity is worse than poverty. “It’s bad if you don’t know whether you’ll end up on the street the day after tomorrow,” adds Standing.
“The saying that performance pays denies all inequalities,” says Mona Motakef. The Dortmund sociologist wants to express the fact that, depending on origin and other factors, there are blatant differences in terms of a possible career. And those who are precariously employed can hardly find secure work.
“Those who live precariously must ask for help. You have to ask bureaucrats, please help me. And with inflation, the feeling of being a supplicant increases,” explains economist Standing. However, since 70 percent of the population in Germany, England or France are themselves suffering from rising housing costs, they too can no longer help those who are weaker.
The documentary “Poor Despite Work – The Crisis of the Middle Class” by Katharina Wolff and Valentin Thurn also shows that more and more young people are taking to the streets with their protest initiatives. Sociologist Motakef explains: “One does not get any rights for free. You have to take to the streets for that. It’s happening, but not enough.” There’s a lot of explosiveness in the new class of precariat. This could result in a “political monster”.
Germany – What is a good salary? For orientation: That deserves the average
It can affect anyone – causes of poverty: You need to know these reasons