SEATTLE — Poverty can take different shapes. According to the World Bank, extreme poverty refers to the condition of living with an income of less than $1.90 a day. Relative poverty is not defined by living above or below a set dollar amount but is based on a comparison to others in one’s country or region. Here are some facts about what poverty in Norway looks like.
1) The EU marks the poverty line where individuals make 60 percent of the national median earnings – for Norway, that would be about $17,000 a year. Using the EU definition, about 10 percent of Norwegians were considered under the relative poverty line in 2006, two years before the 2008 recession hit. That percentage decreased over time, until recently.
The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak with Researcher Sindre Bangstad of the Frisch Institute in Oslo, who stated: “A number of recent studies have shown that socio-economic inequalities continue to rise in Norway. Inequality is due to extensive tax cuts for the wealthiest 5 percent under the present right-wing government.”
2) Aside from tax cuts, Norway provides a massive amount of social welfare programs, and many regular citizens are able to find help. According to the Inequality of Opportunity Index, first put forth by Fransisco Ferreira of the World Bank, only 2% of Norwegians can attribute the lack of social mobility to a factor such as race, gender, birthplace or disability.
3) The young and old are both at risk. While inequality hurts the youth, especially immigrant youth, the elderly are also facing economic hardships. Norway still needs to pay services promised to the older population. The elderly receive plenty of benefits and make up a smaller percentage of the population suffering from poverty. Contraceptive use is high and keeps birth rates low, so new generations are not as large as their predecessors. Only 1 in 200 children of Norwegian parents live under the poverty line.
4) At the same time, 4 in 10 immigrant children live in poverty in Norway. According to the CIA World Factbook, over 27,000 refugees reside in Norway, who arrived from Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan. “Poverty is increasingly racialized in that children of immigrants are much more likely to grow up in poverty than children of white Norwegians born here,” says Bangstad.
5) Many people facing economic trouble are centered in urban areas. Homelessness is a growing concern as housing prices remain high. With the wind, the temperature can feel around –15 degrees Celsius at night. People use shrubbery, churchyards or sheds as toilets. Norway recently passed a law banning street beggars, along with giving municipalities the power to begin making other regulations.
6) The country’s welfare model makes social programs reliant on oil tax revenue. The decline of oil is a pressing concern for policymakers. According to the CIA World Factbook, this sector comprises 9 percent of Norwegian jobs, 15 percent of its GDP and 39 percent of its exports.
7) Norway has built up the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, stockpiling over $800 billion dollars. The budget each year is projected to use only 4 percent of those funds. The Norwegian government said it is willing to increase public spending to avoid a recession but believes they provide many amenities to its citizens already. Perhaps something as simple as offering increased access or outreach to those who need such amenities could boost productivity and halt a potential economic recession.
Norway still has challenges to overcome but maintains a government that continually works for its people. The current problem for social welfare programs fighting poverty in Norway may be difficult to resolve, but luckily the stockpile the country has accumulated can buy time for all its citizens to continue working towards a more sustainable future.
– Michael Rose