Poland - Poverty and wealth

Although not a poor country, the amount of wealth accumulated by Poland's citizens is limited. The loss of independence, the control by foreign powers of economic and political life, and 2 world wars brought destruction and depleted any accumulated wealth. Since the end of World War II misguided economic policies further wasted the efforts of millions of people. Only since 1990

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Poland N/A 2,932 2,819 2,900 3,877
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Germany N/A N/A N/A N/A 31,141
Romania 1,201 1,643 1,872 1,576 1,310
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

has the country had its first real opportunity to utilize its talents and skills. It will take time, however, before the effects will be widely visible.

The implementation of market-oriented reforms caused the whole nation to suffer during the period of transition. The previous system of widely spread subsidies for food consumption, transportation, and other areas of life could not be sustained because of the gaping hole in the government budget. Particularly hard hit by budget cuts were places of culture including museums, galleries, theaters, symphony orchestras, and other artists who had benefitted from government sponsorship. Slowly, as the economy has improved, private sponsors increased their contributions and the government budget has allocated more funds to support arts and sciences.

The new economic system offers unemployment benefits. The benefits expire after several months. However, local governments operate offices assisting the unemployed in finding jobs. In some parts of the country it is difficult to match the person with given skills to the job. Retraining programs are offered for those who lack job skills, such as high school graduates who pursued general education, or those whose skills are obsolete because of the changing economy.

Poland's health care system has been recently reformed, but everybody has access to medical services. A

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Poland
Lowest 10% 3.0
Lowest 20% 7.7
Second 20% 12.6
Third 20% 16.7
Fourth 20% 22.1
Highest 20% 40.9
Highest 10% 26.3
Survey year: 1996
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Poland 28 4 19 6 1 8 34
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Germany 14 6 7 2 10 7 53
Romania 36 7 9 3 20 9 16
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

person must register with a family doctor of his or her choice. This general physician is the primary care provider. Should any additional services be required, the primary care provider directs a patient to a specialist. The health care system is organized into several regional organizations which receive government grants to finance their services. The organizations negotiate contract prices with hospitals and clinics, both private and operated by local governments. Destitute people also receive health care services and the cost of treatment is paid by grants from local or central governments. Although the system pays for psychiatric help, it does not include dental care services.

Poland has a public school system. All citizens are guaranteed education through grade 12. In recent years, private schools have been permitted, but their number remains small. Schools are operated by local governments, but the central government provides grants on a per-pupil basis. Because schools often lack funds for periodic maintenance services such as painting or decorating classrooms, parents often either collect additional funds or provide labor to complete these tasks. Fund raisers are also held to finance class trips and other special projects.

High school graduates who would like to pursue a university degree can choose from a number of private colleges and public universities. Many of these schools focus on educating students in a single area, for example, insurance, journalism, marketing, or economics and management. They offer a baccalaureate degree after 3 years of studies. Two additional years and a thesis are required to complete an MS degree. The government provides low-interest loans for students lacking funds to study at a university. Public universities do not charge tuition, but to be accepted the candidate must pass an entrance exam or graduate from high school with a high GPA.

Because economic conditions vary across regions, the government developed some programs focusing on the needs of areas lagging behind the general level of development. These areas receive additional funds for the construction of local infrastructure projects including water and sewage treatment facilities, school construction and renovation, etc. A portion of the funds is provided by the EU.

Although lifestyles between the poor and the wealthy have not yet had time to fully differentiate, some differences are visible. Besides differences in food consumption, some of the noticeable differences are in the use of vacation time. Although the number of people participating in tourist trips increased from 53 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 1999, the percentage of those spending 5 or more days on a trip stayed roughly the same. In 1990, 34 percent spent 5 or more days on a trip, while in 1999 36 percent did so. However, the number of non-travelers decreased from 47 percent to 37 percent in the same time period. The length of a typical vacation tends to be shorter now than the standard 2 weeks prior to 1989.

The change of the economic system to one rewarding the suppliers of labor negatively affected families with a large number of small children. These families tend to spend particularly large amounts of their income on food and basic necessities, while having fewer opportunities to allocate more time to work. Government welfare programs provide additional support, but it seems that the needs of large families are increasing. Whether this situation discourages childbearing and contributes to the stagnation of the population growth has not yet been determined.

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