Merkel Says Germans ‘Never Had It Better.’ But Many Feel Left Behind. – New York Times

 In World

The country, no doubt, remains one of the world’s wealthiest, home to four of the globe’s largest companies by revenue, according to Forbes, with one of the highest average incomes in the European Union and lowest unemployment rates, at 5.7 percent.

That prosperity is often credited to Germany’s early embrace of neo-liberal economic reforms, a version of which are now being snapped in place even by President Emmanuel Macron of France.

Since the 1990s, these reforms have helped the German economy grow, kept unemployment low and averted the kind of debt crisis that hobbled the country’s European Union partners.

But the negative impacts of those same policies — put in place by Ms. Merkel’s Social Democratic predecessor, Gerhard Schröder — have intensified, analysts say.

Christoph Butterwegge, a political scientist who focuses on poverty at the University of Cologne, rejects the chancellor’s claim of a uniformly prosperous Germany as “superficial and undifferentiated.”

He blames her successive governments for allowing the families and individuals who run German companies to amass wealth through advantageous taxes and persistently low wages.

“That is her mantra, and it is true for a large majority of the people in Germany,” Mr. Butterwegge said of the chancellor’s line about German affluence. “But the growing prosperity of the majority has come at the expense of many others.”

Photo

Chancellor Angela Merkel holding a children’s news conference in Berlin on Sunday. The disparity between rich and poor has widened during her 12 years in power.

Credit
Steffi Loos/Getty Images

Even as the number of working people has increased, so has the number of people relying on government benefits. Since 2012, an additional 2.1 million people have turned to government assistance. In all, 7.2 percent of the population rely on it.

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