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Social division in the schools and 7 challenges to the welfare state

by C and C Butterwegge & Sybille Pirklbauer
The most difficult task will be to redefine prosperity not only in philosophical concepts, but also in concrete tangible and experiential terms detached from consumption. Many are already working on this. The United Nations adopted a strategy for a "blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet" with the Sustainable Development Goals 2015.
Where there's a mansion, there's a way. Social division in the education system

By Carolin Butterwegge and Christoph Butterwegge
[This article posted in September 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Wo eine Villa ist, ist auch ein Weg. Soziale Spaltung im Bildungssystem.]

Poverty and wealth, education, class, social inequality

The gap between rich and poor is also growing in the education system. The rise of private educational institutions shows the desire for distinction.

More than ever before, the young generation is divided into different factions, whose relationship is not primarily shaped by common experiences of childhood, but by a deep economic and sociocultural divide with different lifeworlds (see: Butterwegge/Butterwegge 2021). Anyone who believes that there are no class differences in Germany will be disabused of this notion when they look into the school classes: There sit children who want for nothing and have prestigious consumer goods, fashionable clothes and their own pocket money, next to children who come to school without a packed lunch, have outgrown their shoes and barely have the bare essentials with them. But even this image of school as a place where all children come together is fragile. Even in elementary schools, the social segregation of neighborhoods ensures that children's lifeworlds hardly meet. After four to six years (depending on the federal state), the educational paths finally separate - which form of secondary school is chosen depends strongly on social background.

Socioeconomic inequality reproduces itself as educational inequality

The unequal distribution of material resources creates unequal access opportunities with regard to educational and training institutions, especially since these are increasingly made dependent on the market and purchasing power of their "customers" as part of a neoliberal privatization offensive. With their Bologna Declaration in June 1999, the European ministers of education gave the starting signal for an economization, commercialization and (partial) privatization of the school and university system, through which the community has lost democratic quality and the majority of its members have lost quality of life. Education and science have now been made marketable, but thus also market-dependent and more open to economic interests.

The Swiss sociologist Alessandro Pelizzari sees these measures as a counter-reform in education policy, adapting education to the conditions of deregulated and more flexibly designed labor markets as part of a dual strategy. On the one hand, the shortening of the duration of schooling and studies, forced by "empty" public coffers, allows for a general devaluation of basic education and the commodity labor; on the other hand, the social selection of (high) schools is intensified by market mechanisms based on indicators: "It is a matter of deepening social inequalities for the purpose of better matching them to the needs of an economic location." (Pelizzari 2001, 152)

A boom in private day care centers, schools, and colleges, which has been going on for some time, is reinforcing social segregation in education in this country. Privatization tendencies have even found their way into preschool day care. They reinforce the segregation processes within the publicly funded daycare landscape, because a parallel structure has developed for the children of higher earners. In addition to day care as the second regionally widespread form of care and publicly funded day care centers (including many under non-profit, independent sponsorship), non-profit day care centers under private sponsorship have emerged, but their number is (still) manageable. In March 2020, around 73,000 children attended such facilities, and of those under the age of three, around 26,000 in March 2019. Parents who can afford it financially often switch to a purely privately run daycare center due to a lack of a (publicly funded) place. This can cost up to 1,500 euros in monthly parental contributions. Others prefer such a facility in principle, because they expect high-quality, often bilingual and well-staffed support services there. This is something that publicly funded, but chronically underfinanced daycare centers usually do not have.

Education serves as an instrument of distinction and exclusion or demarcation from subaltern classes and strata, especially for some parents in the upper middle class. This is already true of class-specific segregation within the three- (or now two-) tier school system and even more so of the growing role of private schools. Business journalist Daniel Goffart sees in the "segregation process" of different population groups already in early childhood an indication of the social erosion of society: "The explosive growth of private daycare centers, private schools, and private universities not only devalues the public education sector, which has been chronically underfunded for decades; it also leads to the formation of shielded circles and social circles in the further course of life, in which the elite and their pupils can largely keep to themselves." (Goffart 2019, 14) Thus, wealthy and affluent parents open up access to prestigious educational certificates for their children by means of exclusive (private) schools, which serve as tickets of admission to the social elite. In particular, exclusive boarding schools such as Schloss Salem and Schloss Torgelow, but also the Berlin Metropolitan School and the International School of Düsseldorf, are seen as stepping stones to special professional careers.

The number of private school students has almost doubled in the past 30 years: in 1992, they accounted for just under five percent of the total, but now one in ten students attends a private school - partly as a result of the state's austerity policy, which has left the public education system in a catastrophic state in some places. "So far, only very few state schools are able or willing to offer bilingual instruction, musical (early) support, and cooperation with sports clubs and companies. Private schools, on the other hand, not only meet these needs, but at the same time offer parents far-reaching opportunities to (better) combine family and career through more generous childcare hours." (Engartner 2020, 14) In addition, there are private schools that score points by offering a reform-based, holistic program and aim to distinguish themselves as an alternative to state schools.

In a dossier for the Federal Statistical Office, Jan Grossarth-Maticek, Kathrin Kann and Sebastian Koufen provide evidence of a correlation between income and private school propensity. Apparently, as parents' income grows, so does their desire to send their children to fee-based private schools. "Around 13.2 percent of the children of taxpayers with an annual income of between 250,000 and one million euros attended a fee-paying school and indicated this in their 2016 tax return. Among 'income millionaires', the figure was as high as 18.7 percent. Households with an annual income of up to less than 50,000 euros reported school fees for 3.6 percent of their children in their tax returns." (Grossarth-Maticek et al. 2020, 14) Furthermore, the authors show that higher earners pay more money on average for their children's private schooling: "If the income was between 100,000 and 125,000 euros per year, the median annual school tuition reported in the tax return was 2,000 euros. If a taxpayer earned more than one million euros, it was as much as 7 800 euros per child." (Ibid.)

Pupils* at private schools have a significantly higher socioeconomic status than their peers at public schools, just as the parents of private school pupils have higher educational qualifications and less often a migration background (Klemm et al. 2018, 39). The private school segment, as an expression of the advanced economization of the education system, is thus advancing to become an engine of division that further divides the student body and their lifeworlds: into a majority of gymnasial and non-gymnasial school forms in the public school system - including many inclusive all-day schools, but also schools with a socially disadvantaged student body - as well as a minority of private schools with a more socially homogeneous student body from better-off parental homes.

Does education determine who is poor and who is rich, or does material distribution determine who remains uneducated?

When it comes to the problem of social inequality in the supposed land of poets and thinkers - which happens rarely enough - education almost always functions as a political-ideological focal point. Education has always played a key role in public discourse, both in terms of the causes of child poverty and in terms of its elimination, reduction and prevention. Poverty is mostly attributed to serious educational deficiencies, which is why the propagated countermeasures are also limited - to a certain extent logically, but nevertheless wrongly - to increased educational efforts and educational offerings.

Money makes the world go round, as the saying goes, not intellect or knowledge. Put another way: Inequality in terms of income and wealth causes educational inequality - and not vice versa. There is no direct correlation between a person's level of education and his or her socioeconomic status: You can be witty and destitute, but you can also be thick as thieves and stinking rich. Those who pretend that educational deficits are responsible for child poverty in Germany are confusing cause and effect. Poverty makes it virtually impossible for any family to provide a good education for its children. Education, on the other hand, neither reliably protects against poverty, as the relatively high number of unemployed, precariously employed and destitute academics (often from the humanities and social sciences) shows, nor is it a basic prerequisite for wealth accumulation, because neither company founders like the dropout Bill Gates nor young company heirs need a university degree for their wealth accumulation.

Whether a child goes to the football field or to piano lessons after school depends not only on his or her ability or gender, but also, or perhaps even more so, on the income, wealth and social status of the parents. While children from low-income families in Germany are among the biggest educational losers, the children of rich parents are clearly at an advantage. To paraphrase a saying, where there's a mansion, there's a way, whether it's to a high school diploma, to a university degree or to a professional career.

Much like the student body, the student landscape is much more fractured today than it was a few decades ago. Following the U.S. model, a polarization is also beginning to emerge here between an aloof educational elite from academic households and a stratum of the economically more marginalized. The latter also includes an increasing number of foreign students and refugees who, despite numerous barriers, are the first in their families to take up studies, but who rarely finish with a master's degree. One of the main reasons is the targeted transformation of the higher education landscape through market mechanisms, competitive relationships and management concepts.

Education and science are no longer considered a public good to which all members of society are entitled, but merely a "soft location factor," a commodity or consumer item and a market for the future. At the same time, the neoliberal competition mania has a decidedly ruinous effect, especially in the education and science sector, where cooperation rather than competition would be in demand. This is also shown by the increase in private universities, especially in the university of applied sciences sector. Around ten percent of all new enrollments are now at privately run universities, compared with just one percent in the mid-1990s.

Since then, students have come to be known as "customers. Customers who develop a consumer mentality, exploit their "human capital" - what an inhumane term! - and are now supposed to demand suitable teaching offers for this purpose. In this way, the critical spirit of university graduates is driven out of them: through the complete schooling of studies by means of their shortening, through the administration of chunky learning units and through the obligation to take schematized continuous examinations.

Competition, which can motivate people and encourage them to improve their performance only under equal starting conditions, is stylized as a panacea that is supposed to solve the structural problems of a globalized market economy. According to this reading, a claim to equality is incompatible with the performance requirements of a postmodern knowledge society. Accordingly, competition requires and encourages greater wage and salary differentiation in educational institutions. The few winners, however, are offset by many losers.

The path young people take to higher education has changed over time. According to the Education Report 2020, almost 97 percent of first-year students have a general higher education entrance qualification, but more than one-third did not acquire this qualification in the traditional way at a Gymnasium, but rather after completing lower secondary education at vocational schools. Social background is reflected, among other things, in the fact that students from non-academic families are much less likely to enroll in a degree program, especially since their final grades are also lower on average. The transition from a bachelor's to a master's program is another selection threshold: "The higher the social origin, the more often students decide to take up a master's program." (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2020, 178f.)

Since high school graduates from underprivileged families often tend to enroll at universities close to home, while applicants from wealthier families are freer to choose where to study, social selection takes place at this junction of professional careers even without tuition fees. Another social barrier is the sometimes extremely high housing rents in large cities and university towns. There, many students simply cannot afford an apartment.

Unequal educational opportunities thus begin in early childhood, increase during the school career and continue into tertiary education. The more poverty and social disadvantage characterize the living situation, the more obstacles young people face in advancing socially through educational endeavors. At the same time, all doors are open to other young people of the same age right from the start. This also includes the offers of private educational institutions and commercialized leisure activities. This social division of young people's lifeworlds, which is legitimized and reinforced by the partially economized education system, remains a central challenge for social, family and education policy in the Federal Republic.

Carolin Butterwegge did her PhD on poverty of children with migration background and works as a teacher for special tasks at the University of Cologne. Recently, Carolin and Christoph Butterwegge published their joint book "Kinder der Ungleichheit. How society robs itself of its future" by Campus Verlag.

Christoph Butterwegge taught as a professor of political science at the University of Cologne. He will soon be publishing "Inequality in Class Society" with PapyRossa.


7 challenges posed by the climate crisis to the welfare state

by Sybille Pirklbauer
[This article posted on 10/24/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet,

It cannot be pointed out often enough that the climate crisis is not imminent, but already highly acute - and with massive implications for the welfare state. The resulting challenges are manifold and range from new health risks to the financing of the welfare state. The sooner these risks are factored in and measures are taken, the sooner it will be possible to turn the indispensable ecological transformation into a social one as well.

Even though the Austrian welfare state is well developed in many areas, there are already gaps and inadequacies. For example, many parts of the country still lack adequate provision of social services such as kindergartens, nursing care or opportunities for further education. Many benefits that are supposed to secure livelihoods, such as unemployment benefits or the minimum pension, do not adequately protect against poverty. Now new social risks are being added as a result of the climate crisis. Seven central challenges arise for the welfare state.

1 New health risks: Heat, allergies, new diseases

Increasingly hot summers and too few cold winters pose a whole new set of health risks. The temperature increase due to climate change in Austria is about twice as high as the average temperature increase worldwide. The increase in heat days (over 30 degrees) and tropical nights (over 20 degrees) is particularly stressful for children and the elderly, as well as those suffering from cardiovascular or other chronic diseases. In four of the last ten years, more people died in Austria from the effects of heat than from road traffic. Heat prolongs the allergy period, exacerbating respiratory diseases and causing the spread of non-native animal and plant species (e.g. tropical mosquito or ragweed), leading to the introduction of new diseases such as malaria. The health system must address these risks and provide care for those affected.

2. when gainful employment becomes impossible

Massive storms with heavy rain, storms and hail caused flooding and mudflows in Carinthia and Tyrol this summer, resulting in millions of euros in damage. Such extreme weather events will become more frequent in the future, with many negative consequences: Broken rail lines and roads make it impossible for those affected to get to their workplace - if the company or institution where the workplace is located is not also affected itself anyway. For people with care responsibilities, the loss of care infrastructure presents difficult challenges in continuing to do their jobs. The loss of residence also naturally means that those affected are preoccupied with acute challenges and are therefore massively restricted in their ability to pursue gainful employment.

But the increasingly frequent days of extreme heat also mean that work outdoors or in poorly insulated buildings and factory halls is unreasonable and a threat to health. Protection in the event of being (temporarily) prevented from gainful employment through no fault of one's own is supposed to be provided by labor and social legislation - but these are designed for regular operations and not for crisis situations. Many questions have already arisen in connection with the Corona pandemic, for example when companies had to close during lockdowns or kindergartens were closed due to high infection rates. It is important to draw on these experiences and further develop the responses.

3 Increased extreme weather - broken infrastructure

Storms are destroying infrastructure with increasing frequency. This affects roads and rail lines, private houses and apartments as well as office buildings, but also social infrastructure such as schools, kindergartens or hospitals. This raises not only the question of how to repair it as quickly as possible, but also how to maintain basic public services in the event of a crisis.

A key challenge will be to make the social infrastructure climate-crisis-proof. This includes, for example, insulating (and, if necessary, cooling) buildings in such a way that the people inside - especially children and the elderly and sick - are not put at risk to their health. Emergency logistics must be reviewed and adapted as necessary. For example, many hospitals have emergency generators in the basement - which endangers the power supply in the event of flooding.

Storms and their consequential damage also endanger the supply of mobile services, which are an essential pillar in nursing care in particular, but also doctors in private practice. Corresponding risk simulations and emergency plans on how health and nursing care can be maintained in the event of a crisis will be indispensable in the future.

4 Rising prices for housing, energy and food

Currently, the inflation crisis is driving up the cost of living massively. The effects of the climate crisis could exacerbate these developments: For example, crop failures caused by drought, heavy rainfall and pest infestations could contribute to more expensive food, rising insurance costs mainly due to storm damage could lead to higher prices for housing, or energy could become more expensive because too little water endangers the generation of electricity using hydropower and also nuclear power due to the lack of cooling. This hits particularly hard those who have to spend a large part of their income on basic living costs.

Even before the current enormously high inflation, more than half of the expenditure of the lowest fifth of income was accounted for by the three categories housing, energy and transport alone. Structural measures such as the expansion of public housing and a new, social rental law will be necessary to contain price increases in vital areas. There is also an urgent need to question whether a liberalized energy market is a model fit for the future. In any case, it will be important to focus more strongly on the provision of essential goods and services, such as basic energy security.

5 Upheavals in the labor market

The indispensable transformation of the economy toward climate neutrality will bring about upheavals for the entire economic structure, forcing many companies to fundamentally reorient themselves and transforming entire industries. This is accompanied by major upheavals in the labor market, causing old occupations to disappear and new ones to emerge. For those whose jobs are at stake, this is an existential threat.

At the same time, there will be a demand for new skills and the requirements in existing occupations will also change. Without massive publicly supported qualification programs, these upheavals will not be in the interest of either companies or employees. What is needed here is good social protection during the transitions and, at the same time, a clear legal entitlement to acquire new skills that are in demand, whereby companies themselves also bear responsibility for obtaining a sufficiently qualified workforce.

6 Old poverty meets new poverty

The welfare state makes an enormously important contribution to preventing poverty - but not without gaps. For example, even after the recently announced pension increase, the minimum pension ("Ausgleichszulage") is still below the poverty threshold of 1,378 euros a month (12 times a year), and even further below that is the minimum benefit or social assistance. Even among unemployed people, nine out of ten have a daily rate that does not reach the poverty threshold. For one-third of households, even before the pandemic, there was not enough money to cover necessary expenses.

The disruptions caused by the climate crisis will further worsen the social situation, especially for people with low incomes and poor social security. Benefits that are central to people's livelihoods must be raised to a poverty-proof level. The enormous increases in inflation also raise the question of whether the amounts paid out can really be used to cover the most necessary expenses. The concept of reference budgets offers an important approach here. In addition, the focus must also be on forms of poverty such as energy poverty or mobility poverty, and new solutions must be developed and implemented to ensure access to affordable energy and public mobility, for example.

7 Financing the welfare state

Last but not least, the climate crisis poses challenges to the financing of the welfare state. In addition to the points mentioned above, which require measures that also require corresponding financing, competition for the use of public funds will increase.

For example, demands will be placed on the public purse in repairing storm damage as well as through spending on prevention (e.g., protective structures, climate-proof infrastructure). At the same time, however, the threat of economic dislocation is leading to a reduction in revenue potential. And last but not least, there is a huge need for investments in climate protection - which, however, are not only without alternative against the background of the unaffordable consequential costs of a further escalating climate crisis, but also lead to savings in the short and medium term, for example through cheap renewable energy or the elimination of threatened compensation payments in the billions due to missed climate targets.

Prosperity: rethought and experienced

The most difficult task will be to redefine prosperity not only in philosophical concepts, but also in concrete tangible and experiential terms detached from consumption. Many are already working on this. The United Nations adopted a strategy for a "blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet" with the Sustainable Development Goals 2015.

WU Vienna, in cooperation with a wide range of scientific and civil society organizations, organized congresses in 2015 and 2017 on how to achieve a "Good Life for All". Since 2018, the AK has produced the annual AK Prosperity Report, which uses five thematic areas to show that the sustainable development of prosperity and well-being goes far beyond economic growth. These concepts and discussions are all important contributions. But it will be crucial for people to experience for themselves that their lives are made better if they lose access to the city center by car (as large as possible), but gain a lively, green public space that can be used in a variety of ways.

But the visions need concrete, tangible measures that provide security in times of uncertainty and reliably carry all people through the huge changes. The sooner the challenges to the welfare state are recognized and addressed, the sooner the indispensable ecological transformation will also become a social one.

Sybille Pirklbauer is head of the social policy department of AK Vienna.
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