This is Germany – Introducing Hartz IV

Want another one about Germany? Sure, here we go:

For many foreigners Germany, as most of Europe in general, is perceived as an oasis of social responsibility and welfare. It seems to be a place US Americans dreaming of a universal health insurance are pointing at as an example and people all around the place dream of coming to the country where the government will tend for them and they’ll never have a serious problem in their lives again.

I grew up the same. I grew up knowing in the depth of my heard that I’d never have to starve or be cold or lack a roof upon my head if life hit me hard. The state would care for me no matter what and it would help me to get back on track. I can only guess that for a German it must have been the same, though I think that Austria has always gone the social road a few footsteps farther than Germany.

What most foreigners do not know about Germany, however, is what has happened here during the last decade. It probably started as early as 1990 when Germany got heroically reunited and the halves of the country where re-merged into one as fast as possibly without any reconsideration. When the Eastern German economy broke down millions of unemployed without much chances for a job had to be cared for and billions of tax D-Mark went into Eastern Germany, mostly being suck up by Western German companies before the random Eastern German saw any of it. When the first decade of the new, shared country came to an end it had become obvious to the government (social democrats and the green party at that time) that the vast number of unemployed would not diminish and costs for social welfare spent on long-term unemployed were exploding.

A new form of social welfare was brought into existence as an ambitious idea of „boost and challenge“. A newly founded ARGE, a common working group of bureau for employment and social services, was to apply push and pull factors on unemployed in order to get them back into a proper occupation. And instead of old-fashioned social welfare Hartz IV was brought into life. Interestingly enough the man it was named after, Peter Hartz, nearly went to jail for business crimes.

It isn’t quite easy to explain what Hartz IV is all about. Perhaps this is its core problem: it consists of a very big set of rules and regulations as for who is eligible for what and who not, as well as penalties for those turning down jobs or not taking part in educational measures. Basically people get a small amount of money – between 300 and 400 Euro for a single person – that can be subject to cuts, and people can apply for a million of additional options from aid on rent to clothing, furniture etc. Basically nobody really knows what is there to be had and what not. Besides of this mass of formularies and the same authority being in charge of unemployment and well fare money, another important change for people was that they now need to spend their personal savings before they are eligible for Hartz IV. So if you become unemployed in Germany today you’ll receive unemployment payments, pretty similar to the system in other European countries and pre-Hartz IV Germany, for a given time span – depending on how long you have been employed before. After this time span instead of social welfare money you can apply for Hartz IV if you can prove quite a bunch of things including that you have no personal savings to live on left.

During the last decade a giant and incredibly expensive agency has been built doing, in short, little less than spying on Hartz IV „customers“. If you get Hartz IV the agency needs to know everything about you. And of course its agents don’t object interfering with your life. I have already stated that there is nothing to prevent the agency from making you accept a job in the other side of Germany and then letting you alone with handling the relocation if you are unlucky.

Perhaps it could be supposed that German Hartz IV recipients have meanwhile divided into two groups: Those, often second generation unemployed, who have given up any other option then living on government money and have therefor developed quite a bunch of strategies to get the most of the money. There have been enough of those people brought to proudly tell in front of a TV camera how they don’t intend to ever work because they wouldn’t have any more than anyway. Being on the hunt for those, the government has tried to put even more pressure on unemployed but it sometimes seems like those people are always ahead of every new measure finding a way around it.

And then there is the other group. Those who really do want to get out of Hartz IV and live on their own again. Those, who don’t know the tricks and have to live on little more than a good 300 € + rent paid by the government. People that don’t eat any vegetables or fruits anymore for they simply can’t afford them. People that don’t know where to take the money for their children’s textbooks or field trip from. Many of them seem to be chance-less in Germany’s labour market and the agency, if any, only makes it more difficult to them. Desperate with Hartz IV people are pressurized into the most crazy jobs with temp agencies or uninsured 400 €-jobs giving up everything, first of all their humanity, for any kind of a job.

You don’t need to hold an MBA to know what happened: Salaries went down rapidly as did the number of regular full-term unlimited contracts. Companies rather hire a couple of 400 €-workers than one full-time contracted person and unlimited full-time contracts are becoming rare and badly paid especially for young people.Germany has reached a point where many can’t make a living on a 40 hours full-time-job anymore and have to be supported by the government; there are people out there earning even less money from their full-time job then unemployed get through Hartz IV. Which some nudnikim of course see as an argument that Hartz IV is still too high, which is the biggest nonsense I’ve ever heard.

In a way Hartz IV is slowly destroying the country and the fear caused by it brings down what was left of social behavior. It has been discussed all the time since its implementation, even the supreme court has ordered changes so it would fit Germany’s basic law, and with all these changes and additions all it does is getting even more and more complicated. Around here, in Germany, children are raised in poverty, again, without much odds for improvement. Hartz IV is handed down from generation to generation with no money to support children’s education or chances on the labour market.

This is Germany, the social security save haven in 2010.




  1. I’m a bit confused by your article. You write as if the agency behind Hartz IV is responsible for forcing people into cheap labour, and then appear to blame the welfare system itself for ‘destroying’ the country. Which is it – the agency or the welfare system?

    On another note, the 400 euro contract is not the fault of the Hartz IV people, as far as I can tell. As an Anglo I might not have the full story but it really seems that these terribly uncompetitive contracts only exist because the government hasn’t outlawed them, as it technically should. It should also introduce a minimum wage, or mindeslohn, but has been slack on that front as well.

    Basically Hartz IV is, as you say, a new system and it still seems to be going through a large learning curve. Employers are definitely exploiting the system for cheap labour, but blaming the system that is supposed to help the unemployed that are created by this exploitation is the wrong reaction.

  2. The problem is, what where just is no real learning curve, the lobbiists of the employers are still heared more when those of the unemployed….is where any lobby of unemployed? in fact not, the Hartz IV system stigmatized them, so what if you get Hartz IV, this alone disqualifies you to give any statement, what is believable.
    Also, the ARGE is full of little wannabe kings what say things like “do any protest and I cut your money, yo may try to bring it to court, but when your money is completely cut and you can see how to life until we meet at court….in 2 or 3 years when yourt has time for your case” only behind closed doors for shure.
    This means, ppl are all on their own, without the feeling of any backup by the lawsystem.
    This way, ppl are hold quit and when the governemnt say things like: where is no relevant of protest, so the system works well. No need for changes.

    In fact we have 2 societies in germany, the democratic society we should be and a non free, non democratic one, Hartz IV recipients life in.

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