It is no secret that with Germany on top European countries are getting older and the demographic trends show no signs of decelerating. There is, however, a viable alternative to preserve the equilibrium of our social security system: The labour market integration of refugees.
A Comment by Rossella Lombardi
Change of Narrative
In 2015, when hundreds of thousands of refugees entered the EU, arguments against the integration of refugees gained rather sporadic attention as the majority of Germans tended to support the Willkommenskultur. Only a year later however, Germany’s open-arms policy seems over and done. Voters turn their back on major parties and the sympathy for integration sceptics continues to grow. Right now, angst-ridden debates circle around the identity crisis of Germany as well as the EU, the already existing difficulties for native job seekers and the danger of radicalisation and terrorism.
But if Germany really is an immigration country, it is necessary to start looking at migrants as an opportunity and as a “potential antidote to the country’s anemic birthrate, skilled- workers shortage and rapidly ageing society”. Instead of fearing the influx of immigrants who – as some argue – put our non-perfect labour market at risk, “there is something to be said about thinking of refugees not just as victims but as potential contributors to societies and economies in the future”.
Not everyone gives fair consideration to the chances of immigration and labour market integration when discussing future demographic challenges. Germany has the second oldest population worldwide. According to Eurostat, Germany has also the lowest proportion of young people (0-14 years old) among the EU member states. In other words, the number of income taxpayers shrinks as the number of pensioners expands, with consequences for both.
The Bundesbank has recently published a report saying that Germans will have to work much longer “in order to meet the pension demands”. And the International Monetary Fund stressed the “projected decline in labour force by 2020”. Nevertheless, policies fail to adapt to the inexorable demographic change. The Bundestag for instance remains still divided over reforms such as the plan to raise the retirement age.
An Alternative to the ‘Elixir of Life’
But because of Germany’s strong economy and low unemployment rates, “great challenges” come with the “working-age population falling” according to Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. It is therefore right to understand that migrants intervene as a positive factor and economic solution for a population in need of young people. In this regard, the United Nations published ‘reassuring’ data: “Despite a surge of immigrants – Germany expects 800.000 asylum seekers this year – the population is set to decline from a 2002 peak of 82m to 74.5 by 2050”.
There is certainly a gap that must be filled and there is a viable option to do so. If over the next decades the percentage of Germany’s population at working age keeps shrinking, “it will be difficult to maintain the gross domestic product at the current rate”. Therefore, the quicker migrants “are integrated in the labour market, the quicker there will be a positive contribution”.
Young People Welcome
Considering the recent success of the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland in state elections, it becomes important to stress that the integration of refugees is not going to deprive us of our welfare. The “German labour market has a shortage of skilled personnel with moderate qualifications” but Germany’s bureaucratic structures seem to stand in the way of progress. There is a lack of language and practical trainings, for which companies expect the government to intervene.
In conclusion, refugees can be complementary to our social system and immigration is the most immediate mitigating factor to prevent its collapse. Of course, refugees alone cannot solve the decline of our population but they can help stabilise the economic and social system in the long run. Some argue that Germany of all countries “has enough jobs to accommodate the flood of new arrivals”. Hence, it is about time to respond to the question on “how to turn the today’s refugee crisis into an opportunity”.
On October 13, Polis180 invites you to our event at the BMW-Stiftung in Berlin which is organised by our Project Labour Market Integration.
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