The number of under-15s living on the basic welfare benefit known as Hartz IV shrank from 1.9 million in September 2006 to 1.64 million in September 2011, according to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, citing figures from a report by the Federal Employment Agency (BA).
BA director Heinrich Alt welcomed the figures. “Fewer children on Hartz IV means that the job centres have been able to integrate their parents into work,” he told the paper. “Even the long-term unemployed or the under-qualified are profiting from the capacity of the job market.”
But the statistics also reveal large regional differences. City states like Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen and high-population states like North Rhine-Westphalia have struggled to tackle child poverty much more than prosperous states like Bavaria.
While child poverty fell by 13.5 percent on average throughout Germany, Berlin could only manage to cut the figure by 1.2 percent. More than a third of the children under 15 in the German capital continue to live on Hartz IV.
But the situation is noticeably more positive in the eastern German states surrounding Berlin. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and Thuringia, the number of children on benefits dropped by more than the national average, though this may be due to emigration into western Germany.
Despite the positive trend, Markus Grabka, economist at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), warned against complacency. “Child poverty remains the central social-political problem in Germany,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, pointing out freedom from state dependency did not equate to freedom from poverty.
He also noted that single parents were disproportionately poor. In August 2011, as many as 35.9 percent of single parents with one child lived on Hartz IV, while that figure rose to 45 percent for those with two children.
Alt called on companies to give single parents more chances. “Children need to see that working for a living is the norm,” said the BA director.