Who is hardest hit financially by the pandemic in Germany?

The pandemic has affected everyone in Germany in many ways. Here's who is being hit hardest when it comes to economic difficulties.

Who is hardest hit financially by the pandemic in Germany?
File picture shows a mother and child in western Germany. Photo: DPA

From Kurzarbeit (reduced hours) and homeschooling to hardship and health issues – the coronavirus crisis has deeply shaken the population in Germany. The effects can be seen in almost all areas of society, a report by the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre shows. 

The results of the Data Report 2021 – A Social Report for Germany – primarily cover the first shutdown in spring 2020 until the summer of 2020, giving a snapshot of the effects of the pandemic. Germany has currently been in a shutdown since November, although there are plans to reopen public life.

The first lockdown in March 2020 resulted in an unprecedented economic crash. In the second quarter, gross domestic product (GDP) fell by almost 10 percent, and private consumption slumped by 13 percent, reported Welt.

Sectors particularly affected, such as restaurants and hotels, lost almost 90 percent of their turnover during the ordered closure. Mobility also fell abruptly by a third in the spring as a result of the ordered contact restrictions. Air traffic came to an almost complete standstill for months.

How is the pandemic impacting people?

In the first pandemic phase, higher income groups experienced more frequent income losses. But for the people with low incomes, the financial consequences were harder.

In interviews, 17 percent of semi-skilled and unskilled workers and just under 14 percent of employees without a degree reported being affected by financial difficulties, or expect this to happen in the next year.

In skilled, master and qualified occupations, the figure was only nine percent.

Single parents (25 percent) and the self-employed (20 percent) were the most affected. People with a migration background (15 percent) were almost twice as likely to speak of money problems as people without this background (eight percent).

Furthermore, people in the lowest income groups were more likely to have lost their jobs during the first shutdown. And employees in the lowest income groups were also less likely to be able to work from home compared to those who earn more.

What about the general picture on poverty in Germany?

According to the report, the risk of falling into poverty in Germany is highest among single parent households (41 percent), people with a lower secondary school leaving certificate without a vocational qualification (35 percent), and in those with a direct migration background (29 percent) – people who have immigrated to Germany.

The study found German residents who have fallen into poverty are increasingly getting stuck in this situation for a longer period of time compared to previous years.

For several years the gap between rich and poor increased significantly in Germany. Now the structure of poverty has changed.

READ ALSO: How new poverty ‘problem regions’ are emerging in Germany

In 2018, almost one in six (15.8 percent) people were living below the poverty risk threshold. At the end of the 90s, it was just under 11 percent.

“We see that households that once slipped below the poverty line remain below the poverty line more often and also for longer,” Philip Wotschack, a researcher at the WZB and one of the authors of the report, told Spiegel.

According to the report, 88 percent of people who lived in relative income poverty in 2018 had already been affected by poverty for at least one period of time in the previous four years – and just under 44 per cent of them had been permanently poor during this time.

Structurally weak areas in the west – such as the industrial Ruhr region (Ruhrgebiet) in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populated state, also show an increased risk of poverty, as does eastern Germany – more than 30 years after reunification.

READ ALSO: ‘Nearly three million’ children in Germany live in poverty

People are said to be at risk of poverty in Germany if the net household income is less than 60 percent of the country’s median income. In 2018, this threshold was around €1,040 per month for a one-person household, and €1,352 for single parents with one child.

Meanwhile, people in the Bundesrepublik are becoming more frustrated about the income gap. Only just under half of the population feels that their own gross wages are fair, the report found.

Almost 75 percent of western Germans are now in favour of the state taking action to reduce income disparities. In 2002, it was still less than half. In eastern Germany about 80 percent of people want the government to do something about it.

The study has been published jointly by the WZB, the Federal Statistical Office and the Federal Institute for Population Research every two years since 1983.

The data aims to paint a comprehensive picture of living conditions in Germany. It combines official stats with social research including interviews with people affected.


Poverty – (die) Armut

Single parent household – (der) Alleinerziehenden-Haushalt

Migrant or migration background – (der) Migrationshintergrund

The gap between rich and poor – die Kluft zwischen Reich und Arm

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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10 must-see films and series to help you improve your German

Watching German-language movies and series can be one of the most fun and entertaining ways to improve your language skills. Here are a few to check out.

10 must-see films and series to help you improve your German

In addition to sharpening your listening skills, they can also give you insight into the historical and cultural complexities of the German-speaking countries.

We’ve compiled five series and five films that will do just that.


Sam: A Saxon

This newly-released series chronicles the life of Samuel Mefirre, East Germany’s first Black policeman. Inspired by a real life story, the seven-part show follows Mefirre as he joins the police force shortly after the Berlin Wall falls, and becomes the poster boy of a reunified Germany keen to promote itself as a tolerant multicultural society. But the show doesn’t pull any punches about the racism Mefirre faced in his home country, nor about what happened when the fame and pressure became too much. 

The show has been making headlines for uncovering a darker side of German society, and the real-life Mefirre, who has written an autobiography about his experiences, has praised the show for accurately capturing his story.  

Watch it on: Disney +  

The Empress: 

This 6-part period piece tells the story of the rebellious Bavarian duchess Elisabeth and her tumultuous transition into the role of Austrian Empress after marrying Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. As a costume drama focused on the intrigues of European royalty, it brings shows like Bridgerton and The Crown to mind, and has received acclaim for being similarly enthralling. With a second season on the way, now is a great time to get caught up on the hype.

Watch it on: Netflix

READ ALSO: Swiss TV: The shows to watch to understand Switzerland

Babylon Berlin: 

This series, based on the novels of Volker Kutscher, introduces you to the grimy underworld and tense politics of 1920s Berlin. It follows police inspector and World War I veteran Gereon Rath, who uncovers various criminal conspiracies across the show’s four seasons while battling his own demons. 

In plot (a troubled former soldier navigates a city’s criminal element) and style (gritty and dark) it has drawn comparisons to the hit show Peaky Blinders. Indeed, if you like a historical drama with a bit of an edge to it, Babylon Berlin is right up your alley. 

Watch it on: Sky 

READ ALSO: Why ‘made in Germany’ TV has captured the imagination of the world


As the name suggests, this show centres on the world of Berlin’s famous Charité research hospital. Each of the three seasons is set in a different time period. The first one takes place in the 1880s, the second during the 1940s, and the third in the 1960s. Classified as a character-driven soap opera with plenty of drama, the show also sheds light on some of the medical dilemmas that the hospital’s doctors faced and the important breakthroughs they spearheaded. You’ll get a mini history lesson, and a crash course in German medical vocabulary! 

Watch it on: Netflix  

Der Bergdoktor: 

Der Bergdoktor is another medical show, but it’s set in present day Austria. It follows the story of Dr. Martin Gruber when he moves back home to the Tyrolean countryside after spending many years as a surgeon in New York. With 16 seasons on offer (having premiered in 2008) and a relaxed vibe enhanced by the beautiful scenery, it could become a nice comfort show that doubles as an introduction to the Austrian dialect.  

Watch it on: ZDF



Victoria takes place over one chaotic night in Berlin. It begins as the titular character, a young woman who has just moved from Spain, meets and befriends a group of Berliners she meets outside a nightclub. What starts off as an endearing tale of their blossoming friendship ends in disaster for everyone, and a thrilling watch for the audience. 

The movie is great for language beginners because a large portion of the dialogue is in English. It’s also a treat for film nerds: the entire movie was shot in one take, an impressive feat!

Watch it on: Netflix

Goodbye Lenin:

This 2003 ‘tragicomedy’ film has gone down as a German classic. Set in East Berlin, it follows the story of Alex, whose mother goes into a coma just before the Berlin Wall comes down. When she wakes up, he must hide the signs that communism has given way to capitalism, lest his ardently socialist mother go into shock. The film puts a humorous spin on the fall of the Wall while thoughtfully exploring the theme of Ostalgie (nostalgia for East Germany).

Watch it on: Netflix

Der Untergang (Downfall)

This Oscar-nominated film tells the story of Hitler’s crazed last days in his bunker during the 1945 Battle of Berlin. Released in 2004, it was one of the first German movies to feature an actor playing Hitler, with Bruno Ganz brilliantly depicting the dictator’s warped psychological state and its disastrous consequences. 

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video

Der Sandmann:

This surreal Swiss romantic comedy movie follows the irksome Benno, who discovers one day that he is mysteriously turning into sand. To stop this transformation, he must form a connection with his downstairs neighbour, the aspiring singer Sandra, who gets on his nerves. The film promises plenty of laughs, as well as an enjoyable immersion into Swiss German.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video

Schwarze Adler:

Football is the most popular sport in Germany, so naturally there are many documentaries about the “beautiful game.” One of the more interesting ones is “Schwarze Adler,” released in 2021. It examines the experiences of the Black footballers, male and female, past and present, who played in Germany, some for the national team. Told almost exclusively from their perspective, the documentary has been praised for highlighting the continued issue of racism in sport and German society.  

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video