The complaints have put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has touted her economic stewardship in a campaign that will decide whether the German leader, who took office in 2005, will serve a third four-year term. In their decision Sunday, voters will shape the direction of German-led crisis efforts across Europe.
Beckmann, 64, is among the critics.
“The task of the government is to create jobs,” he said. “There are so many weak spots in the way they govern.’’
A former technical writer for engineering companies including Siemens, Beckmann has been struggling with unemployment for a decade, bouncing between joblessness and poorly paid work. With the help of unemployment benefits, he scrapes by on about $1,130 a month, living a constrained life in a downtrodden patch of Berlin where head-scarved Turkish women swerve their strollers to avoid the strung-out drug addicts who colonize public park benches.
He says he misses his old life, the one in which he could afford the silver Mitsubishi Colt that he had to give up a few years ago, and when he didn’t have to go to a food pantry once a week to pick up a bagful of castaway groceries.
In Merkel’s campaign speeches and public addresses, she points to an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, down from 9.8 percent a decade ago — an enviable figure that countries such as Greece and Spain, where more than one in four workers is out of a job, can only covet. Joblessness dropped in Germany throughout the Great Recession, a record that economists from around the world have flown in to study.
Behind the numbers
“Today, many people are better off than they were four years ago,” Merkel told lawmakers this month. Her coalition “wants to continue this work, so that in 2017, even more people can say: ‘We are doing better in our country,’ ” she said.
But the numbers obscure the hardship that comes from increasingly prevalent low-paid jobs, says Merkel’s challenger, the center-left Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck. Germany is one of the few European countries with no minimum wage, and Steinbrueck is fighting to implement one of $11.20 an hour. Insecurity should have no place in such a wealthy country, he tells the crowds of supporters who come out to see him as he barnstorms across this nation of 82 million people.
The gap between the poor and the rich has widened over the last 15 years, which is leading to tensions in society, Steinbrueck said this month.
Under Merkel, Germany has positioned itself as an exemplar for Europe, partnering relatively generous social benefits with efforts to liberalize the job market and balance the budget. But even Europe’s model economy is facing tough problems, critics say, pointing to the blossoming of a low-wage sector, and the steady attenuation of salaries, pensions and welfare benefits because they have failed to keep up with inflation.