Despite all the problems it has faced during the past decades, Germany still has one of the most affluent and powerful economies of the world. Its high wages, while often accused of being a major cause of the country’s unemployment problem, are in fact a sign of an economy based on quality goods produced by a well-trained labour force (Lindlar and Scheremet, 1998). When measured against (average) productivity, they are not so high after all (Kaufmann, 1997; Heise et al, 1998). Consequently, Germany always has defined itself as a ‘work society’, a society whose affluence, and the distribution thereof, is based on skilled, diligent work.
This image of a ‘work society’ has been undermined by the persistently high unemployment rate during the past two decades (see Chapter Two, Table 2.1 of this volume). To be sure, the unemployment problems Germany has been facing since the early 1980s are not as poignant as in a number of other countries. However, on account of their perception of the work society, it took Germans quite some time to get accustomed to unemployment rates of 7 to 9%. Frequent warnings that high unemployment had paved the way for the Nazi regime were especially common during the late 1970s and the early 1980s, thereby providing additional arguments for a resolute strategy to create new employment. The public continually rates unemployment among the major social problems, and the fight against it is considered one of the foremost tasks of politics (see, for instance, Fridberg and Ploug, 2000).
This chapter examines unemployment policies in Germany during the past 15 years from a citizenship perspective. The term citizenship here denotes a social and political status that entails two things:
The citizenship framework is helpful in a conceptual way. The encompassing social security provisions by the German welfare system have led some sociologists (Lepsius, 1979; Krätke, 1985; see also Offe, 1991) to conceive of one or several Versorgungsklassen, meaning a class (or several classes) whose income and status is based on welfare state provisions, such as the tenured civil servants or the recipients of retirement pensions.