The working poor, or A Question to the Minister of Finance…

Did you know there are more than 1 million working poor people in Bulgaria? Who are they?

The working poor are people who are in employment, but their earnings are somewhere around the poverty line. They work under a labor contract, and pay social insurance and taxes. They head for work each morning, and come back home in the evening. Still, their incomes verge on extreme poverty.

A couple of weeks ago the prominent Bulgarian journalist Diana Naydenova asked the Minister of Finance what he would choose to spend 400 leva on.

Surprisingly (at least to us) his answer was he’d pay for his son’s private math classes, because in his opinion education is what matters the most. And he’s right. Education is the most important thing if we want our kids to survive in this fast-changing world. But does our Minister really believe that is what the regular Bulgarian citizen would use his measly monthly pay of 400 leva for?

No, Mr. Minister. Regular Bulgarians would first make sure they pay their electricity bills—so as not to have their power supply cut off.

They would first cover their utility costs, and only then, if they have any money left (which we doubt), they’d pay for extracurricular classes for their kids.

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The common Bulgarian would first see to his bank-loan repayments, because the Bulgarian banks lurk like scavengers around his already plundered home, waiting for just one payment delay to take even the clothes off his back.

Bulgarians don’t buy monthly supplies of food staples, because they are really not sure if they’ll make it through the month. Month by month, they work miracles to survive on an unbelievably small budget.

So meet the working poor.

The working poor Bulgarian is somewhat of a magician, and is able to achieve great things with very little—that is, to survive.

And just because of that, his kids are very unlikely to remain and work in Bulgaria once they’ve grown up. They may study here, because it’s cheaper. But right after that they’ll take off abroad where they won’t be treated as livestock. They’ll just run away someplace where they’ll be making enough to have a decent life instead of the sorry existence they’d be forced to endure if they stayed.

Once they’ve done that, they’ll start supporting the working poor, because they’ll be living on a pathetic retirement pensions provided by a pathetic state.

That’s right: if up until retirement the working poor have to wonder how to make do with just 400 leva monthly, they’d be facing a bigger challenge once they’re out of the labor market—how to stay alive with just 200. And that’s Guinness’s world records material.

And while the esteemed Minister of Finance may have a hard time choosing what to spend 400 leva on, for millions of his fellow Bulgarians the answer is obvious.

They know precisely, to the point that they can provide him with a detailed breakdown of expenses, right to the very last penny. But how long can they go on living like that?

Prices are crawling up slowly but steadily, and we’re so used to this that it’s not even a topic anymore. It just goes without saying. Nowadays one can barely find bread at 1 lev, and the prices of other basic foodstuffs have also soared up…unless the food is fake.

Imitation of food for an imitation of life.

Yes, we think the kind of life most Bulgarians live is…not a life, really.

It’s hardly a life, having to count every penny, hoping and praying you’ll be able to make it through another month; seeing your parents struggle with only 20 leva left until their next paycheck which is two weeks away; not being able to remember when was the last time you had a good time out, because there’s no way you can afford it; praying that all holidays would just go away, because you need to take loans to afford a celebration and then wonder how you can repay those; keeping your fingers crossed you never get ill, because if you do, there’s no way you could possibly pay for medication.

And finally…praying you never lose your job, because to be a working poor is…in fact better than to be jobless. Wonder why? Because nobody gives a damn about the unemployed. The government just don’t care that people can hardly find a job other than waiting tables or bartending. If you’ve turned 40 and for some reason or other you can’t do any of these jobs, you’re doomed to starvation.

Yes, there’s scores of us, the working poor…

So here’s another question for the Minister: What’d he do if he was left with even less than 400 leva to spend?

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