Polish middle class like Germans on minimum wage?  The truth is a little different [OPINIA]

The text was created as part of the WP Opinie project. We present the diverse views of commentators and public opinion leaders on key social and political issues.

Let us reconstruct this argument. In Poland, the average salary in 2023, according to data from the Central Statistical Office, is about PLN 7,150. Meanwhile, the minimum wage is on our western border at the same time It amounted to approximately 2 thousand euros. We do a quick conversion using the EU currency exchange rate from last year – let it be 4.55 (it is worth noting that the euro exchange rate has been really high in recent years) and find that a cleaner in Germany earns a total of approximately PLN 9,100. bubble! Across our western border, the lowest-paid workers earn a third of what ordinary Polish workers earn – One would like to scream.

Another number can be added to this – let's compare the averages. According to data from Statista.com In Germany, the average annual salary in 2022 (latest data) was 45,500 euros. Our average annual salary at the same time: just over 76,000 PLN. But in zloty. If we correct for the currency exchange rate of our western neighbors (here multiplying by 4.7 is safer), it turns out that Schmidt's average income per year is… about 215,000 Polish zlotys. Zloty. Almost 3 times more than Kowalski. Are we that poor compared to the Germans? of course not.

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Purchasing power of money in Poland and Germany

These accounts have a major flaw. It does not take into account the difference in the purchasing power of money. After a moment of thought, we realize that in an average store in Poland, if we spend the equivalent of 100 euros, we will buy much more things than if we spent the same money in a German store. Of course, I'm not saying that the average Kowalski is as rich as the average Schmidt. However, I argue that the differences in salaries and income are much smaller than would result from such simplified calculations.

Data on earnings adjusted for the purchasing power of money are provided by the OECD (OECD, Organization for economic cooperation and development). It uses purchasing power adjustment and expresses salaries in dollars for the year 2016. It is worth noting here that the organization includes the most developed countries in the world. Data refer to 38 countries. So how do we compare to this?

The average annual wages of OECD countries in 2022 amounted to about PLN 53,500,000. dollar. Icelanders had the highest wages, earning approximately 80,000 Polish zlotys. Dollars (adjusted according to purchasing power). Mexicans were the least wealthy. Their average annual income is about $16,500. What does Poland look like? With annual payments of about PLN 37,000. Dollars we are well below average. Interestingly, the country that is one step ahead in the ranking is… Japan with an income of PLN 41.5 thousand. slot. With purchasing power adjustment. I think it is worth giving some justice to President Lech Walesa, who in the 1990s spoke of Poland as a “second Japan.” Another issue is that Japan's economic development has slowed significantly in recent years. So let's hope this isn't a prediction either.

We still have the German “standard”. Schmidt's average income was 58,000 Polish zlotys in 2022. dollars. This is a much larger sum than what Kowalski did, but it is a reduction of “only” 63 percent, and not three times, as would have resulted from a simple conversion of euros to zlotys.

How poor are Poles compared to citizens of Western countries?

Now let's look at another measure we already mentioned, which is the minimum wage. These are important because they show how well (or not well) the poorest workers are faring. Here we can support ourselves Data from Eurostat.

Eurostat has new information from the beginning of 2024. So, what do the national minimums look like in individual countries? In the European context, low-skilled workers can count on the highest salaries – and perhaps there will be no surprises here – in Luxembourg. They earn just over 2,500 euros per month. The lowest minimum is – and here again, without any major surprises – in Bulgaria, only about 500 euros.

But the same problem arises here as before. Well, €2,500 is one thing in Luxembourg and another in Bulgaria. In the latter country, you receive – nominally – the income of a Luxembourgish cleaner, and can live at a really high level. And in Poland as well.

To settle these differences, Eurostat uses an artificial currency: PPS – purchasing power standard (Purchase parity standard). “Theoretically, for one PPS, we can buy the same amount of goods or services regardless of the country” – We read on the Eurostat website. So what do differences in minimum wages look like if we take the above measure into account? Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that Poland's minimum wage is one of the highest in Europe.

A Polish person earns approximately 1,500 PPS on minimum wage. The Germans are on the minimum “only” 400 points per second more! The lowest-paid Schmidt earns a quarter of what the lowest-paid Kowalski earns. That's all the rest of the story about how the Polish middle class is paid less than ordinary workers abroad.

Of course, there is a catch in this context. In our country, about 13 percent are employees He earns around minimum wage. In Germany, it reaches 7 percent. But this hair can also be sectioned. In our country, the practice of paying part of the salary under the table is certainly more common. This mostly applies to people earning minimum wage. Therefore, if we take into account household wages, of this 13 percent Poles earning the lowest national wage may constitute 10 percent.

Kamel Fajfar, journalist and labor market and social gap analyst

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