Many families with small children face poverty

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Czech families with small children are having serious problems making ends meet. They're one of the poorest groups in Czech society, even worse off than old-age pensioners. Many people are therefore dissuaded from starting a family altogether, and as a result, says Olga Szantova, the Czech birth rate continues to decline.

Twenty-five percent of Czechs told a recent opinion poll that young families with small children were the worst off in this country, while only 14 percent said pensioners were the hardest hit. And they were right. More than 100,000 young families live on the poverty line, which is set at 8,500 crowns a month for a family with one child under the age of six. 8,500 crowns is approximately 220 US dollars, although buying power must also be taken into consideration for the comparison to have any meaning.

But in any case, having a baby usually means a considerable decrease in the family's standard of living. The mother usually stays home from work, and so, instead of two people living on two salaries, there are three living on one. Social benefits from the state amount to some 2,500 crowns, which doesn't come anyway near to compensating for the mother's lost income. By strict economising a family can just about get along on such an income, if--and this is a big if--they have their own place to stay. But housing is a major problem and there is an acute shortage of small and cheap apartments. Even relatively cheap apartments are out of reach for many young families. A two room apartment--that's a living room, one bedroom and kitchen--costs around a million crowns in Prague, a bit less in the rest of the country.

In either case, saving money is absolutely out of the question for young families. In some cases, parents help out, if they can. They help out in everyday life, too, and two thirds of old-age pensioners help their grown-up children financially. In most cases the threat of financial problems connected with starting a family lead young people to have children at a later age, or to put off marriage altogether. The number of marriages has dropped 30 percent since 1989 and there is a similar decrease in the number of babies born each year. All of which makes the individual problems of young families a national problem which has to be resolved. There is general agreement on that point, but there is much less agreement on how that should be done.

Author: Olga Szantová
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