Czech research shows appropriate jobs often inaccessible to the unemployed
An oft-repeated prejudice in the Czech Republic is that those who receive welfare don't want to work. Just-published research, however, refutes this thesis and finds that many welfare recipients also work in various temporary jobs or without employment contracts, cobbling together an income from a large number of insecure sources.
Permanent work either does not exist where they are or is not worth applying for because it incurs additional costs and pays low wages. Those are the most interesting findings of the research, entitled "Between welfare and work that doesn't exist?", which was commissioned by the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and produced by the SPOT organization (Center for Social Questions) and the Multicultural Center Prague.
Analysis of motivation for persons choosing between low-qualified employment and welfare
"The analysis augments previous research that presented the situation of several model examples of families whose members chose low-paid employment over welfare. Now we are acquiring an even more colorful, detailed overview of the factors and motivation of people deciding whether to accept such employment. This situation is being addressed by a significant proportion of the inhabitants of socially excluded localities in the municipalities where we work as the Agency. However, more and more impoverished inhabitants living outside these localities face this situation as well, said Radek Jiránek, director of the Agency.
"The interviews we conducted clearly demonstrate that many households today are not facing the question of 'welfare versus work'. What is essential to them is how to cover their basic costs and needs through the most appropriate combinatoin of available resources," describes main author Lucie Trlifajová.
The authors also say that if we want to review the question of motivation for employment, there is a need to first focus on whether and in what form work is available in a given place. "There is also a need to distinguish between when work is not accessible and when people are not willing to accept it. In the regions where the research was conducted, the options for employment were frequently very limited, accessible work was often low-paid and temporary," the author says.
"Now it's a bit weird with the work... I look online, in the newspapers, I tried writing to various employers, but they never wrote back... I don't see any opportunity for work here except working for the municipality," the report quotes a married woman with three children, two of whom are already adults with their own incomes, as saying.
In the regions where the research was conducted, there has been a significant drop in the number of jobs available to people with low qualifications in recent years, and the growth of short-term employment has also been evident there. Full-time employment was frequently accessible only through positions that were subsidized and also temporary (most often in the form of community service work).
"I cut wood and I last worked in June. They pay me CZK 50 [EUR 1.85] an hour. Or I went to do mowing with some woman who promised me CZK 200 [EUR 7.40]. After four hours of work she gave me CZK 100 [EUR 3.70]. I had to bring my own scythe. [...] I don't moonlighting like that. They try to see what they can get out of you. Here the locals from the village know I'm broke, so they want me to work in exchange for food. They promise me something and then they don't deliver," the report quotes a divorced man with no dependents as saying.
The answers given by the respondents further document that it is not possible to assert that welfare is a factor reducing their motivation to accept employment. Almost all those questioned said they would welcome the certainty of sufficiently-remunerated employment instead of dependency on state support which would frequently have to be augmented through insecure, temporary employment in any event.
The drawing of social benefits, on the contrary, is connected with strong frustration for many people as well as feelings of inferiority. This is especially the case if they remain below the poverty line even while working full-time.
"When that's where I fit in, I feel like absolute scum, like someone inferior. Even though I work, I still have to beg the state for money," the report quotes a divorced mother of two employed for minimum wage at a community service job as saying.
The answers given regarding the financial motivation for accepting or rejecting low-paid employment were also confirmed by the conclusions drawn from the model examples presented in the opening section of the research - after summarizing the costs associated with such employment (e.g., commuting, meals outside the home, etc.) a household's income almost did not change and in some cases even fell because of accepting low-paid work. Motivation to work, of course, is not formed just by differences in income - what is essential is the opportunity to make a living through work.
The research also confirmed that indebtedness has a significant influence on the willingness of people to accept employment. This is a strongly demotivating factor for formal employment, mainly in cases where the person's wages are attached and the household cannot envision paying off the debt.
A household subjected to collections on the wages from a low-income job can have a lower net income than a household with absolutely no source of employment income - the amount attached leads to the wage per hour remaining at just a fraction of the original wage and somewhat approximating minimum wage. Those with attached wages who apply for social support still receive benefits calculated as if the family were receiving their full income.
"I get CZK 12 000 [EUR 444] gross per month. I have CZK 9 500 [EUR 350] left after collections. My rent, including utilities, is CZK 6 500 [EUR 240]. That means I will net CZK 3 000 [EUR 110]... I began to appreciate the ordinary things more, that I have something to eat, that there are people much worse off than I am. I have become aware of the value of life. I am grateful for every piece of bread," the report quotes an adult divorced man with a daughter in high school who is employed and subject to collections as saying.
The research concludes with several recommendations. They include, for example, a proposal to improve the kind of information provided to job seekers by Labor Office branches (e.g., by introducing targeted fliers describing people's specific life situations), increasing the minimum wage, supporting instruments to reduce costs associated with employment (e.g., financial support for transportation) and meeting the need for a comprehensive evaluation of the situation of individuals receiving employment advice.
"The research demonstrates that impoverished people are by no means as informed in detail about their options for state support as is supposed. The documents and texts posted to the website of the Labor Ministry are frequently difficult to understand even for a person with a college education. There does not exist, for example, an official online calculator to check one's calculation of benefits. Moreover, repeated changes in legislation and in IT systems in recent years increase the opportunities for there to be inaccurate calculations," the lead author explains.
The research is based on a qualitative investigation implemented in two regions of the Czech Republic with high degrees of unemployment compared to the statewide average and a low number of acesssible jobs. Respondents included long-term or repeatedly unemployed persons who had recently had experiences with the welfare system from various types of households (married couples or partners with a child or children, single parents of a child or children, young adults currently or previously residing with their parents, childless households), as well as employees of the Labor Office, employers, and social workers.
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