Wow it’s been awhile since I’ve written, mostly because I’ve been consumed by my German classes. Trying to learn this language is taking over my life – it’s practically becoming a job, lol! Currently, I’m attending classes 5 days a week and also receiving additional help/instruction twice a week. I don’t know if my speaking is getting any better but I will say that things (rules, mostly) are ‘clicking’.
Our class is winding to an end and thus, we are preparing for our exams. In preparation for our spoken test, we discussed the current hot topic in Austria – the increase of the ‘Mindestsicherung‘ (social welfare) to €800/monthly per person. I believe its currently around the €650 – 700 mark and it’s been determined that individuals are unable to live on so little. The way it was explained to us was that individuals that either work but earn less than €800 per month or are currently unemployed but searching are eligible and will receive whatever amount required to bring them up to the €800 per month mark (i.e. if one earns €500 per month, they will receive €300). It was further explained that this amount is per person, hence two or more individuals in a family can receive this assistance once they meet the established requirements. Therefore, a family with 3 unemployed yet seeking, working-age individuals could receive up to €2400 per month. This is not inclusive of the money and services individuals receive from other funds (i.e. childcare, healthcare, health insurance, apartments, etc). My first question was where will the money coming from, to which the answer, of course, was taxes. All of a sudden, two emotions enrobed me – disbelief and a depressive sadness.
I’ve met people from many different countries living here, and more often than I can count, one of the first questions raised is do I have kids, when will I have kids, why don’t I have kids. Based on the crazy looks received to my answer of wanting to ensure my financial stability here before taking on the responsibility of another life, this seems to be completely opposite to the norm of most individuals living in Austria (not limited to, or exclusive of, Austrians). Often with a confiding pat on the arm, I am advised to adjust my focus from learning German to popping out 3 or more kids as I’ll then be entitled to money from the government for each (usually this statement is completed with a brilliant smile indicating they’ve solved all my problems in one fell swoop). Yet, it’s really hard for me to readjust as my entire life has been built on the foundation of ‘study and work hard to improve one’s opportunities, lifestyle, and personal development’.
I don’t know if it’s changed since I left The Bahamas but we have no social welfare system other than public schools, hospitals/clinics, religiously-affiliated or socially-affiliated charities. If one wants something, one works for it; cause as we say back home, “The government ain’ ya babydaddy!” I know the USA has a welfare system that assists their population, and while there are those that ‘work the loopholes’, ‘being on welfare’ is unspokingly negatively perceived. Many rags-to-riches stories start with struggling to ‘get off welfare’, years of sacrifice, education, and dedicated hard work, etc. This is the background I come from, so perhaps you can now understand my shock at realizing that here amongst a segment of society exists a given, open, and encouraged norm of ‘working the system’.
Now mind you, I am neither against government assisting those in need, nor do I look down upon those that receive from the government because as we say back home. “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Social welfare systems are essential to a society and, when they function properly, are excellent tools. Yet, these systems can be easily abused and, often, there are limited safeguards. Further, I’ve heard (and am inclined to believe) that these systems, when not properly monitored and supported by other programs (i.e. education, employment, entrepreneurship, self-development programs, etc.) can create a welfare-dependent society.
The depressive sadness set in upon the realization that the system being ‘worked’ is me and those like me! As the money that funds those who ‘work the system’ comes from the increasing taxes of those that work hard to support themselves and their families. Thus, I can only think that, like a hamster on a wheel, the harder I work, the faster I go nowhere.
So now what? My entire focus for the last year and a half has been educating myself to qualify for a position that will support my lifestyle…but it appears that not only might I be working hard to support someone else’s lifestyle but that rather than resolving the unbalance, steps are being taken to increase it. I also just learned that not only does one pay taxes on salaries and items bought but also on interest earned on monies saved in the bank (um, what?!). I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how is it that one leaves an apartment, the amount of funds paid as deposit decreases; shouldn’t it increase? Add to that the injustice heaped upon me, when individuals on the street give me that sour look of “Oh here’s another one of those foreigners that’s milking our country!” and you may become just as depressed as I am. Especially given that I’ve spent over €5000 to learn German and receive my a visa and have not been deemed eligible for any of the financial assistances allocated for these purposes.
Perhaps I’m just not smart enough to figure this out, perhaps I have figured it out but am just in denial, perhaps I just need to stop fighting and join ’em by producing 3 or more offspring; I don’t know, but now I also understand that other crazy look I get when people find out I’m from The Bahamas and moved to Austria from the US (it’s kind of like “You idiot! Why?????!!!!!).