The Working Poor in Europe
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The Working Poor in Europe

Employment, Poverty and Globalization

Edited by Hans-Jürgen Andreß and Henning Lohmann

For a long time in-work poverty was not associated with European welfare states. Recently, the topic has gained relevance as welfare state retrenchment and international competition in globalized economies has put increasing pressures on individuals and families. This book provides explanations as to why in-work poverty is high in certain countries and low in others.
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Chapter 4: The Different Roles of Low-wage Work in Germany: Regional, Demographical and Temporal Variances in the Poverty Risk of Low-paid Workers

Marco Gießelmann and Henning Lohmann


4. The different roles of low-wage work in Germany: regional, demographical and temporal variances in the poverty risk of low-paid workers Marco Gießelmann and Henning Lohmann INTRODUCTION There is a long-standing discussion about the relationship between low wages and in-work poverty. In Germany, this relationship is obviously rather weak: empirical studies have shown that Germany, compared with other countries in the European Union (EU), is a country with a high proportion of low-wage workers – in particular when earned incomes are considered on a monthly basis. But although the low-wage sector is large (Eurostat, 2005), the poverty risk among workers used to be comparatively low (Strengmann-Kuhn, 2003). In this chapter, we explain this empirical phenomenon. We show that individual low wages are often pooled with other earned incomes within a household, and consequently that living with other employed persons enables low-paid workers to avoid poverty. Then, by analysing the institutional framework, we show that Germany – and Western Germany in particular – can be regarded as a prime example of a modified male-breadwinner model (Lewis and Ostner, 1994) and that potential secondary earners are provided with the incentive to work part-time on a low-wage basis. From this perspective, we are able to explain the high proportion of low-wage workers and discuss whether low-wage work decreases rather than increases the household poverty risk (Becker, 2002). However, we should point out that an attempt to treat Germany as one macro unit fails: even though since reunification, Eastern Germany shares most elements...

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