Friday, March 12, 2010

Hartz IV [Hartz vier]

[ The Hartz concept ]

One of my main duties working at die Grünen office is scanning a few regional newspapers and compiling stories that are of importance and relevant to the Green party political views. The job takes me a bit more time than what a native German speaker could probably do, but even so, the constant challenge of speedreading articles in German has only been productive for me. One funny story , since even months into being submerged into speaking German on a daily basis, I still make silly mistakes.

One morning there was a stack of papers that had important articles that didn't have copies online, so I was informed to compile them as they were - auschneiden. I do not know what went wrong in my ears, but something triggered ausschreiben, and I was a bit confused but nodded to my next intern assignment, alles klar, and began working. About ten minutes later, my boss returns to see me pen-in-hand as a scribe jotting word for word the German article on paper [ making my ß look nice since I always find it fun to write them...] Lesson learned to get my verbs straight before agreeing to my task like a loyal intern - ausschneiden is to cut something out, ausschreiben... to write something down. Only a few letters difference, but just enough to have me a few paragraphs into copying the text [ I even thought it was weird... but I was just doing what I thought I was asked.] and then have to start over cutting and pasting the articles into a binder. Now the joke has been for me to ausSCHNEIDen when another similar job comes up.

Returning to my observations while reading the newspapers everyday, I have aquired a very good perspective on what topics are headlining German news the past few weeks. Of course the Olympics had full page articles, but there were also articles about Germany's situation in dealing with the financial deficits in Greece, stories of a woman becoming and later stepping down from a position as a head protestant pastor, as well as research into how to improve the German school system. Possibly one of the most critiqued issues in the German news lately is the Hartz IV concept.

The Hartz IV is the progression of a plan that started in the early 2000's to promote assistance with Arbeitsloshilfe [ unemployment benefits ] as well as Sozialhilfe [ Social Welfare ] in Germany. The plan has created guidelines stating that after 2005, 12 months of full unemployment pay would be offered and 18 months to workers over 55 years old [ compared to 60% before 2005]. The system seems complex, and has different time frames that dictate how much social welfare / unemployment a worker can receive after this year. The other argument is how much money family receives, especially prevalent now since the number of citizens dependent on unemployment has risen a quarter of a million, and children in unemployment funded families are at record numbers.

This topic can serve as a good introduction to understanding many of the social systems that are set up in German society. We hear about healthcare all the time in present day, but with a time of economic hardships, it is interesting to see from an American perspective how Germany is tackling this issue.

On TV news broadcasts I have seen many arguments stating that the social welfare is not enough to support a family, whereas others protest, including Germany's now infamous Vizekanztler Guido Westerwelle of the FDP party, that the social support is too much, and that unemployment benefits should not be more than what a working individual makes. The other questions in German news also include, how much money does it cost to healthily raise a child? However, when does Social Welfare and Unemployment funding backfire and make citizens too dependent on the government and not motivated to seek out a long term career, even during hard times?

We do have similar things in America, but it goes without question that things are different - especially with fears of anything "social" being terrible and un-American that circulate in today's American political media. I have noticed through editorials and opinion papers that there are high demands for the government to be responsible for German unemployed workers, and on top of this, the citizens demand an equal, and adequate living.

Defining what is "adequate" could be the biggest thing that sets political parties apart in Germany, and could also be the biggest difference between American and German outlooks on this issue. Hartz IV is only one of the social government factions in Germany, amongst many, including the aforementioned healthcare system, but all of them can serve as a good starting point for debate and reflection on today's current events. I encourage some American and other foreign readers to look into it and address some questions or comments - I face them everyday since many German co-workers, classmates and family members always enjoy a good political debate here!