Friday, August 27, 2010

Any Experts on the German Economy Out There?

The Wall Street Journal has two articles about German. One describes how German wages are stagnating, despite the expansion.

Here is the first articles:

Thomas, Andrea. 2010. "German Workers' Wages Belie Country's Rebound." Wall Street Journal (15 August).

"Germany has surprised the world with a sharp acceleration in its economic recovery, but perhaps the least impressed by this feat are Germans themselves. The German economy expanded a sharp 2.2% in the second quarter from the first -- the fastest pace since reunification in 1990. But, despite the export-driven rebound, most German workers aren't getting any richer."

"Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has hailed Germany's "job miracle" after whittling the jobless rate down to 7.6% of the work force, compared with unemployment levels of about 10% in the U.S. and France. But the bulk of that reduction has come from the emergence of part-time jobs, often at low pay. That helps explain why German domestic demand has remained sluggish even as German exporters boast booming foreign orders. The disparity has drawn accusations from Germany's neighbors, notably France, that it is exploiting the world recovery without contributing to global demand."
"Average annual net income per employee has fallen steadily since 2004, reaching 15,815 euros in 2009, down from 16,471 euros in 2004. As part of the so-called Hartz IV labor-market overhaul program to support low-income groups, the government has spent 50 euros billion in welfare subsidies since 2005 for people who earn too little to make a living."

"Lobby groups for low-paid and unemployed workers worry that an increasing number of jobs have to be subsidized. "Hartz IV has made it possible for companies to get their profit subsidies from the general public, with companies paying starvation wages while those affected need Hartz IV to survive," said Martin Behrsing, spokesman for the Unemployed Forum Germany."

"Another measure for low-income workers is looking at people who earn two-thirds or less of the average income. By that measure, the number of low-paid workers increased by almost 2.3 million people to 6.55 million between 1998 and 2008, according to a recent study by the Institute for Employment and Qualification at the University Duisburg-Essen."

"The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's employment outlook report 2010 shows that 21.5% of Germans worked in the low-pay sector in 2008, up from 16% in 1998. In an international comparison, the share of low-paid workers remained unchanged at 24.5% in the U.S. and increased only slightly in the U.K. to 21.2% from 20.8%. The average among OECD countries is 16%."

"I think we have seen in Germany for quite a while now an expansion of the low-wage sector, since the mid, late 1990s," said Herwig Immervoll, an economist with the OECD, which is based in Paris. "There is an increase in the inequality in Germany. We see this in other countries too, but maybe not as much as in Germany."

"Duisburg-Essen University's employment institute puts it even more starkly: "No other country has experienced a similar increase in the low-income sector over the past years and a differentiating of wages to the downside as Germany has," it says in its study."

"The upswing hasn't reached me. What I am witnessing is exploitation. There is more and more low-paid work. People don't find work, and if so only as temporary work, which is a great mistake because it's destroying the wage system," Mr. Friedrich said. "It might well be that the upswing has reached the big companies and that they are making more money, but it's the opposite for the ordinary guy," he said."

"Such sentiments are weighing on Ms. Merkel's center-right government, whose popularity has been tumbling in opinion polls that increasingly favor the center-left opposition. One recent poll showed that four out of five Germans say they aren't personally benefiting from the rebound."

"Hubertus Heil, deputy parliamentary floor leader of the opposition Social Democrats, is angry about the increasing number of subsidized jobs and said a legally binding minimum wage is urgently needed. "It's a shame that people who work full time have to put up with this," he said."

"At present, Germany has no general minimum-wage level. Minimums do exist for specific sectors, such as for the construction, cleaning, waste and nursing sectors. To match the minimum-wage levels in other European countries, Germany would have to introduce hourly minimum pay of between 5.93 euros and 9.18 euros."

"The DGB umbrella group of trade unions has called for an hourly minimum of 8.50 euros. But others, such as the Ifo economic research institute, warn that this could result in the loss of 1.22 million jobs, largely among those earning low incomes."

"Nelli Einstein, a 48-year-old from Berlin, has been selling clothes, bags, jewelry and tools for 1 euros apiece for the past two years. It sometimes takes her as long as a year to sell 10,000 euros of merchandise."

Here is the second article:

Fuhrmans, Vanessa. 2010. "Germany Suffers a Labor Shortage." Wall Street Journal (27 August): p. A 12.

"The surprising strength of Germany's economic rebound is exacerbating an already worrying problem for legions of its companie Industrialists and economists long have warned of a looming shortage of skilled German labor, a consequence of the country's declining birth rate and an exodus in recent year of engineers and other highly trained workers, to around the European Union, the U.S. and elsewhere. But the rapid recovery of Germany's export-fueled economy in recent months has suddenly brought the problem home for many domestic companies, which fret that the shortage could restrain their ability to respond to the nascent rebound."

"Though German unemployment still hovers around 7.6%, about 70% of German companies report they are having trouble finding enough master craftsmen, technicians and other skilled labor, according to a survey released this week by the DIHK Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce. Companies haven't been able to fill some 36,000 engineering jobs open across the country, the Association of German engineers reports. "

"Bitkom, Germany's largest information-technology industry association, says the same goes for 43,000 IT posts. "

"And this is happening just barely out of the severe recession of 2009," said Hans Heinrich Driftmann, DIHK's president. "As the economy improves and companies need to hire more people, it's only going to get more severe."

"For now, Germany's marquee corporations, such as Siemens AG and BMW AG, have enough skilled job applicants, thanks to aggressive recruiting and generous training programs. But many of the country's Mittelstand, the thousands of small to mid-size companies that are the backbone of its export-led economy and provider of 70% of German jobs, are struggling to find needed employees as demand picks up."

"One is DELO Industrie Klebstoffe GmbH, a Bavarian maker of industrial adhesives. With ?30 million ($38 million) in sales and 230 employees, the family-owned firm is looking to hire another 60 highly skilled workers this year as orders from the electronics, auto and other industries take off. But so far, filling the posts has been difficult."

"We're troubled most of all by the search for technicians and engineers," said DELO Executive Director Sabine Herold. Located near Munich, the company says it is tough to compete for skilled job candidates with better-known companies in the area, so Ms. Herold has been trying to forge closer ties to universities and vocational-training institutes, and sponsoring business programs at local high schools."

""If we're going to expand further, we need smart people right away," Ms. Herold said. "But a lot of school graduates don't know us.""

"Behind the growing shortage is a combination of demographic trouble spots. Like in many European countries, Germany's declining birth rate-at 1.38 children born per woman on average in 2009-isn't enough to keep its population stable. And since 2008, more people have been leaving Germany than immigrating to it. That tendency is particularly strong among those with university or vocational training degrees. Last year, some 27,500 post-secondary-school graduates came to Germany from other European countries, for example, while 32,000 left for elsewhere in the European Union. "

"Economists estimate the skilled worker shortage is resulting in annual economic loss of between 15 billion euros and 20 billion euros, and with that, more potential jobs. "If there isn't enough skilled labor, then there can't be more production," said Klaus Zimmermann, president of the DIW German Institute for Economic Research. "

"Major companies are acting to counter the trend longer term. BMW and Siemens, for example, have expanded in recent years programs that train apprentices in specialized technical fields as they pursue post-secondary degrees at universities or technical colleges, thereby compressing the training time before they can fully join the work force."

""They don't have any difficulties getting hired. They're in great demand," said Gnther Hohlweg, head of Siemens' training programs, who adds that 90% remain with Siemens."

"Others are using older workers. German auto-supplier giant Robert Bosch GmbH maintains a reserve of several hundred semiretired skilled employees between ages 60 and 75 that it taps when it has to ramp up production and can't find enough qualified labor on short notice."

"Daimler AG, which manufacturers Mercedes-Benz cars, anticipates that within 10 years half of its workers will be older than 50 years, compared with 25% now. To accommodate them, it has introduced more flexible shift rotations and installed strength-training equipment near plant assembly lines. According to this month's DIHK survey, 21% of the 1,600 companies polled said they would take steps to draw more older workers."

"As Germany's economy has gathered strength in recent months, the skilled-worker shortage has reignited a debate about immigration policies, and created a new source of tension within Germany's center-right governing coalition."

"Earlier this month, the country's economics minister, Rainer Bruderle, proposed introducing cash "welcome" payments to lure more skilled foreign workers to Germany, as well as lowering the minimum income level it requires for skilled workers to be eligible for extended immigrant status. The current annual income level is 66,000 euros, which many economists and companies say is too high."
"The proposals were quickly rejected by labor leaders, as well as a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said the government just introduced immigration policies in January 2009 aimed at making it easier for foreigners trained in Germany to find work there, and their effect had yet to be felt."


Debra said...

I am not an expert on the German economy, but, living in France (the E.U), I can tell you that the general employment trends in Germany are carbon copies of what's going on in France, the uh, uncomfortable REALITY that the American worker has suddenly slammed into at 200 mph, to his great surprise and indignation...
There are inevitable long term consequences to the constant denigration of the VALUE OF WORK (as opposed to... the value of stocks, bonds, paper money, etc etc..., and the "rentier" approach to money, which is waiting for it to fall into his lap FROM HIS INVESTMENTS. Careful... aristocracy IN SOME FORM is inevitable, and indispensable for us but some forms of it are more predatory than others...)
The long term denigration of work leads to the "less value (as opposed to "plus value") of it, and wage stagnation, if not the outright DESTRUCTION of it.
Classic example of HOW WORDS/IDEAS MAKE THE WORLD GO ROUND (and not money, as many of you seem to think.. )
Our current financial crisis is also a crisis of MEANING. We are struggling to give new forms of meaning to the word "work".
It would be best if we found ways that allowed us to salvage it AS A VALUED ACTIVITY in our own eyes.
If we are going to "use" it to put meat and potatoes on the table, that is..

michael perelman said...

Debra, I think you will like the Invisible Handcuffs when it comes out in January.

Debra said...

Is it a book ??
Is it FREE ? ;-)
I could MAYBE be EARNING A LIVING (yuccky expression, so plebian) by writing IF WE HADN'T MADE IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to put meat and potatoes on the table through "work" of any kind. (It's scrounging for almost everybody these days.)
Now... I work for free..
What else do you do if you can't EARN A LIVING ?
Keep me posted on your.. "work". ;-)

Myrtle Blackwood said...

"21.5% of Germans worked in the low-pay sector in 2008, up from 16% in 1998. "

Globalisation has resulted in the economic elite having access to a much broader/larger pool of labour. They can screw the wages down across the planet that much easier than they could in the past.

So it's no surprise to read about the gradually increasing impoverishment of the 'paid' worker in the so-called 'developed' economies.

The easiest way to put "meat and potatoes on the table" is to produce this stuff directly. The home economy is real and could be a powerful tool against concentrated wealth, if only people began to realise their power.

Consumption politics, it's about time it was used!