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PostSubject: Angela Merkel's Germany pessimistic about future   Angela Merkel's Germany pessimistic about future I_icon_minitimeTue Nov 08, 2011 1:17 am

Stephen Evans By Stephen Evans BBC News, Berlin

On the face of it, Germans ought to be among the most satisfied people in the world.

It is true that the economy has slowed down, but it is still going to grow at nearly 3% this year, enough to turn many finance ministers green with envy.

And Germany remains one of the most equal countries on the planet, right up in the top 10 when it comes to the gap in incomes between top and bottom.

But when surveyed, there is a greater level of dissatisfaction reported among Germans than in many countries which are much worse off economically.

Recent research by the Institute for Work at the University of Duisburg-Essen found that German workers were less satisfied with their lot than workers pretty well anywhere else in Europe, apart from Slovakia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia.
Shrinking middle class

How do you explain this high "grumble quotient" as the researchers didn't call it? They say: "The reasons are to be found in developments such as the intensification of work in the factories, the problem of reconciling family and work, low wage increases and growing uncertainty about future careers."

And the middle class is being squeezed. On the best reckoning, about 62% of the population could be described as middle class in 2000, but that had shrunk to 54% by 2006, even before the financial collapse and recession. It may well have fallen to around 50% by now.
Continue reading the main story
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People can no longer assume that their circumstances will improve through their lives”

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Take the case of Christiane Ehrmann, who has been a nurse for 25 years. She is now senior in her hospital but to talk to her, you would think it had all gone badly wrong.

"I'm really disappointed. I think I contribute to society and nursing is a very important profession. I'm disappointed that this isn't appreciated. I really have to struggle now", she said.

She says her circumstances changed for the worse when the hospital was privatised and she had to sign a new contract. Overtime and bonuses at Christmas were cut, so she says her situation has worsened.

That is not the way it was meant to be. Satisfaction is often about expectations - and German expectations have clearly been dented. They now live in a world where people can no longer assume that their circumstances will improve through their lives, or from generation to generation.
Economic caution
German Chancellor Angela Merkel Germany's Chancellor Merkel presides over a nervous nation

The researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen found that the rise in dissatisfaction was particularly strong among older workers aged over 50, though the decline in job satisfaction has happened at all skill levels and in companies of all different sizes.

The big changes in the workforce started just over a decade ago under the centre-left government of Gerhard Schroeder. In a series of measures introduced under him and his successor Chancellor Angela Merkel, the safety net under the unemployed has become less supportive. The possibility of poverty - and so the fear of poverty - has risen for people in the middle.

On top of that, there are persistent wide differences between pockets of poverty in the old East Germany and the booming South-West of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, 20 years after unification. In cities like Berlin, there are now beggars and people rummaging through bins. The government is debating the introduction of a minimum wage.

Without a doubt, there is also a German psychology of economic caution. They save more than other peoples. They are loathe to use credit cards. They don't get militant over pay. They tighten their belts.

It should be said that the German economy is still stronger than almost any other. It has higher exports than everywhere except China.

Germans have shorter hours of work than Britain or the US (or Greece). German unemployment (at 6%) is lower than most Western countries including Britain, France and the US.

The snag is that it doesn't feel as good as the figures suggest. The possibility of being worse off than your parents is not meant to be the German way - or anybody else's, for that matter.

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