Poverty in Rural Poland

The rural-urban divide of Poland is most evident in the widespread rural poverty. While urban Poland is placed among highly developed countries, rural Poland still has not achieved this status. Rural Poland is widely known as a “second Poland.” Rural areas make up 93.2% of the country’s territory and 38.6% of its population. The low income or poverty and the social exclusion of rural Poland’s population is a big factor in the separation of rural and urban areas. Poverty in Poland is mostly recognized as rural poverty, as the extent of poverty in rural areas surpasses the respective values for urban regions.

As of 2005:

Overall Urban Rural
Living in extreme poverty 12.3% 8.2% 18.7%
Below the relative poverty line 18.1% 12.5% 27.0%
Living in poverty 18.1% 12.3% 27.3%

The groups and categories that are most at risk of poverty are children, multi-child families, families living in rural areas, and families with low level of education and unemployment of the head of the family. In Poland, many of the rural population are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, such as ex-workers of the former state farms and their families, farmers and their families, large families, and children in poverty.

The situation of extensive regional differentiation of Poland and especially of rural areas is widely acknowledged by researchers and policy makers. The Eastern regions, known as the “Eastern Wall”, belong to the poorest parts of Poland. The Northern voivodeships, such as areas where former farm-states are located, are heavily impacted by unemployment. In the People’s Republic of Poland there were over 1,600 state farms with about 500,000 workers that lived with their families – a total of about two million people. When these state farms were closed and the economy transformed in 1991-1993, about 100,000 people were left unemployed. In 2005 up to 29.9% of the residents in rural areas that neither own state farms nor have a source of income with social pensions, socials benefits, and unemployment benefits, live below the subsistence minimum in extreme poverty. Localised in rural areas, affected by long term unemployment, and with poor education of the head of the families, families in former state-farm communities bear the characteristics of Polish poverty.

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In the early 90s, 20% of the employed population worked in agriculture. By 2005, this number had decreased to 17.4% and now continues to gradually decline. In comparison to other EU countries, Poland’s productivity of agriculture is very low. This is a result of great fragmentation of agriculture, excess of labor, the low education level of farmers, and insufficient modern equipment of agricultural holdings. The share of agriculture in Poland’s GDP was only 4.1% in 2005. In the early 2000s, incompetent politicians rather than capable professionals directed the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. Politics have an extreme impact on social policy in Poland, especially on rural issues.

Today, Poland’s most severe social problem is child poverty, as it poses an important threat to the future of the country’s society. The young age of poor and/or unemployed people is one of the most relevant and characteristic traits of contemporary poverty in Poland. In 2005, children and adolescents up to the age of 19 made up over 40% of the population living in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty rate among children up to the age of 14 was about 19% that same year. It is especially difficult for children and young adults from poor families to access education. Educational barriers and low level of education completed by children from poor families easily leads to poverty, unemployment and social exclusion in adult life.

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Contemporary poverty in Poland is also directly connected with the number of children in a family, and in Poland, rural families tend to have more children than urban families. Families with four or more children are at high risk of poverty, as about 40.1% of people from such families were living in extreme poverty in 2004. Since the overall percentage of households living in poverty was 11.8%, extreme poverty in households with many children was more than three times greater than average. In 2005, extreme poverty of children from multi-child families increased to 44%.

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Child poverty is a long-term situation especially in rural areas of poverty, such as former state farm settlements, and quickly leads to long-term, chronic unemployment. Many programs have been put into action in Poland, addressing unemployed young people from both rural and urban areas. In 2002-2005 several governmental programs were implemented for occupational activation of the youth. The European Social Fund finances the active measure on the labor market, such as trainings and workshops. This financial assistance covered 340,000 people (95% of the unemployed). The EU rural development policy also considers the issue of rural unemployment, youth unemployment, and various forms of “hidden unemployment” in rural areas.

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