Use Your Words - Hartz IV

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once, and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

My words are:

paper ~ vibe ~ neon ~ friend ~ dunk

They were submitted by: Baking In A Tornado - Thank you, Karen!

Sometimes I have stuff on my mind I'd like to write about, and I'm hoping the words I get assigned, will support my story. At first glance, this is not the case today, but let's see what we can do about that...

It's Monday, and I have run out of coffee. 

Now most of you know I used to work for Starbucks, and their dark roast whole beans are the only ones I will drink. Call me a coffee snob. During the lockdown I had the hardest time sourcing them, but that's a story for another day, and fortunately it's ancient history. 

My current "problem" was the following: 

I had watched one too many Hartz IV documentaries, and as I was standing in line at the coffee shop with the green neon sign, I felt guilty.

What is Hartz IV? 

IV = roman sign for 4, so the fourth reform.

Hartz IV is the name of Germany's welfare program, named after Peter Hartz, the chairman of the commission that dealt with the elaboration of the merger of unemployment assistance and social assistance.

There are almost as many Germany based people (6.4 million) dependent on these benefits as there are inhabitants in Switzerland (8.6 million). Of course Germany having 83 million citizens, puts this figure into perspective, 7.7%, but still. 

A television station has used this change in labor market policy in 2005 as an opportunity to portray people who are affected: those who cooperate well and those who do not. 

What they have in common is that they don't live in nice apartments. 
Some have mold on the walls. Some don't have a sink in the kitchen, or they have a sink, but no faucet. (Who builds apartments like these in the first place?) Some flats are really small, and there is not enough space for beds for every family member, so Mom will sleep on the couch, and Dad (if in the picture) will sleep on the floor.

What they usually also have in common is the fact that they smoke. A lot. In the apartment. While babies and small children are present.

How do the beneficiaries differ? 

Some have an admirably positive mindset and will accept any job to supplement their basic income: 
  • They distribute newspapers at 4am in the morning, and they call their kids at home later to tell them it's 7am, get up and get ready for school, honey
  • They rake leaves in the cemetery 
  • They stock shelves in the supermarket
These jobs, which are assigned by the employment office, pay only 1 Euro per hour. 1 Euro is currently pretty much the equivalent of 1 USD. 

So if they work, let's say 20 hours a week, they will earn an extra 80 - 100 bucks a month. If your basic income as a single person is 449 - there's more if you have kids, in addition to this standard amount, reasonable costs for accommodation and heating are covered - one would think this really makes a difference.

People who are too lazy to get up in the morning, don't think so. They'd rather hatch plans how to get extra money from the authorities / charities in other ways. 

They apply for a baby's starter kit (crib, changing unit, clothes, diapers, bottles) even though it's their second kid. They claim the original furniture broke. Truth is they just didn't like the plain wooden color, so they threw it out. They wanted a pink princess room, and they ended up getting the money for it, along with a generous amount of onesies, jackets and shoes. 

They produced over ten pair of shoes to show the camera team. 

Shoes for a newborn!! 

A baby who won't be able to walk, which the parents know perfectly well because they already have a child. It's just that these tiny shoes are so cute.

This greedy couple still was not happy. A friend told them about a charity where one can not only get a free meal once a week, but also groceries and clothes. That's how they got another set of baby stuff, just because they could.

What do they spend their money on? Streaming subscriptions, fancy smart phones, clothes, shoes, beer and cigarettes.

Oh, and did I mention, both, Mom and Dad are young, healthy and perfectly capable of working? 

They just don't feel like it. What for? After all they got everything they needed. For free.

One day he had an appointment at the Job Center. He called and told them a sob story about having to attend his cousin's father's funeral. Instead he went to the tattoo studio to have his new baby girl's name tattooed to his forearm. 


Oh, and by the way... The tattoo cost 150 bucks, which he didn't have. He didn't hesitate to blackmail the film crew: You guys pay for it, or we can't film anymore. Nice.

I don't know how they keep getting away with it. 

In order to be able to apply for Hartz IV, the person in need of assistance must 
  • be capable of working
  • be in a financial emergency
  • and there must be a threat to the minimum subsistence level

Not willing! 

All three requirements must be met. On paper, if they are assigned a "job experience" they have to accept it, and if they don't, their benefits are reduced. 

Of course the people who work for these Job Centers are overwhelmed not only by the number of people they're supposed to look after, but also by the demanding and sometimes downright aggressive approach in which their "clients" insist on getting an advance or additional payments.

These clerks' main responsibility is to make sure capable people get to work, and eligible people get paid. On top of that they sort of act as "every day life coaches". They will send people to classes on how to write a resume and how to behave at job interviews.

Oh, the bitching and moaning of these participants!

These hard working Job Center people will also sort out child care, driver's licenses, and private tutoring for their clients. 

One young lady produced a "yellow note" issued by her utility provider, saying they will cut off electricity and water tomorrow, unless she paid her outstanding bills. She claimed she never got any overdue notice or warning of any kind, and that she had always paid her bills.

Her clerk took the time to call the utility company. What did she learn? Her client has been behind several payments, and she had applied for - and was granted - instalments. Reminders had been sent to her (insert at least five dates over a reasonable period of time). 

Needless to say, she didn't get any extra money. The clerk was mad. She had been lied to many times, but this one cut the cake!

Even though it's clear to me that you can't reward someone who does not fulfill their duties and then brazenly lies to you, I felt sorry for her.

Can you imagine living without electricity and water for a long time? She's probably looking at weeks if not months until she paid off not only the invoices but the fee to turn her utilities back on.
How are you going to cook? There will be no showers, no laundry, and you won't even be able to flush your toilet and wash your hands! Yuck!

For another couple this has been a reality for a while now. They shower, do their laundry and charge their electronic devices at shelters or friends' places.While they're over there they'll also help themselves to snacks from their friendly buddies' pantry and fridge.

At their own home, they use their fridge to store long-lasting food that doesn't need to be refrigerated, and on most days they don't feel like cooking anyway. On the day they were followed by the TV crew, they went to a nice bakery in the city and got a fancy sandwich and coffee. 

The reporter asked how much they paid for this splurge, and how long this money would have lasted if they bought regular groceries. "At least a week", they said. "But hey, life is short, gotta indulge from time to time." They proceeded to walk to a nearby kiosk where the salesperson immediately recognized them.

"The usual?" She asked. 

No, we don't have much money left, just give us (insert cheaper brand of cigarets and cigars)

"The paper maybe? You know, for the job ads?" She suggested.

No thanks. That's another 1.40 we can't afford.

"You know you could clean my kiosk after hours. Some dusting the shelves, emptying the trash cans, vacuuming and mopping the floors. I'd be happy to pay." She was on a roll.

You've got to be kidding. We don't like to clean our own apartment (it shows!), why would we clean other people's places?

Geez, guys!!! I can only hope the person at the employment office watches this documentary and will force you to accept a job and / or slap you with sanctions! Then again who is going to hire you...

Then there was this couple who had been homeless for several years and finally got a newly renovated apartment through a charitable institution. What did they do? They did not pay the rent (hey, cigarettes, beer and gambling are expensive!), claiming damages on the walls were reducing their quality of life. These people had been living in a tent behind a train station, I would say living in a proper apartment is a huge increase in quality of life. 

Just as an eviction notice arrived after almost half a year of getting - and ignorning -  late notices and warnings, the lady found out she was pregnant. Surely the landlord would not throw them out now. Did she quit smoking and drinking by the way? Nah. Her own mother had smoked and drank during pregnancy, too. It couldn't be that bad. In her 26th week she gave birth to an underweight and underdeveloped baby boy. She enjoyed the free food but wasn't happy about the fact that she didn't have a TV in her hospital room, left a couple of days later and never looked back. 

She left her baby behind!

This made me incredibly sad and mad. 

So many couples have difficulties conceiving, do every procedure under the moon, and still can't get pregnant or keep the foetus, or go through great lengths to be eligible to adopt a kid, and this person knowingly poisoned her unborn child and then just abandoned him.

Of course individuals like these are probably the exception, and the other 6,399,998 or so people are grateful and cooperative. It's just that there are countless instalments of this show, and the TV people seem to have no problem to find new parasites who are willing to be portrayed every week. 

I'd like to tell you about an exemplary gentleman, a certified and experienced machinist who was out of work. Does our economy not need people like him anymore? On the morning of his TV shooting, he got up at the crack of dawn, as he does every day. He packed his backpack: Water bottle, a sandwich, a banana, and a rather thick envelope. 

What's in there?

His resume and work certificates.

Where was he off to?

To the Job Center.

Not to ask for money or services. To be available for a day job.

Candidates will be sitting in a waiting room as early as 7am, waiting and hoping. 

Sometimes a clerk will come and announce 

"I need two strong people to help out with a moving company." 


"There has been a mishap at Supermarket so and so. They dropped a couple hundred yogurts, and it's a mess. Who wants to help clean it up?"

On that day - and about eight to ten other days a month - our guy got a day job. Cheap labor for the companies, an additional income for the hard working people.

So why does he always bring his CV?

"You never know. I always ask if they were happy with my work, and whether they are hiring. Gotta be prepared."

I do hope this man gets the permanent position and stable income he deserves!

He also pointed out that more important than the extra money was to have a purpose every day. 

"I need to get up and out of the house every morning, what else am I gonna do? Sit on my butt and watch crappy TV for hours? Also I enjoy meeting other people at work. You know even though I am unemployed myself, I don't want to hang out with my fellow benefit recipients who will blame everybody else for their misfortune and still aren't willing to make changes themselves."

Back to my Monday. 

In my mind I was feeling the desperate vibes of people who have lost their job through no fault of their own and are therefore depended on financial support. They try hard to provide for their kids and want a better life for them. Sad fact though, many of these kids will skip classes and drop out of school eventually, getting denied vocational training, and boom, they will be living off taxpayers' money as well.

So this is what I decided to do  that day:

Prior to Colin's hockey camp I had spent almost my entire household budget on his new equipment, so it would not hurt to cut down on unnecessary costs. However, in my book, coffee is not unnecessary. 

Excessive alcohol is unnecessary. Cigarettes are. Meat is. Going to the movies is. Having shoes for a newborn is.

I was gonna get my bag of whole beans. I have a job, and I can pay for it myself. 

I will, however, reduce my consumption by half, making the coffee last twice as long. Also I was going the get a treat at Dunkin Donuts for my son, who attends school every day, gets good grades and is therefore laying the foundation for a bright professional future. 

Back home I texted my acquaintance, who collects and transports pre-loved clothes and shoes to people who need them, asking about her next pick-up day.

A balanced approach? 

Do I need to feel guilty for living a comfortable life?
Let me know in the comments, and please visit my fellow bloggers to check out their posts:


  1. You do not need to feel guilty for living within your means.
    It's frustrating, programs put in place for those who truly need, then look at how many people lie and cheat to take advantage of what they don't need. Or refuse to set reasonable priorities in their personal consumption. I hope those who are really trying to better their situation, do.

  2. I never understood people like this who are so lazy that they are happy with the status quo. I always thought the object of life is to always be bettering ourselves.


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