COLUMBUS, Ohio — Bulgaria, a country in the Balkans known for its sundry terrain, has made many strides over the past few decades in the area of economic growth. That said, poverty in Bulgaria is on the rise as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has pulled the country’s economy back into a recession. For Bulgarians already affected by poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened their financial situations as job loss is increasing throughout the country. In the process of this widespread job loss, new Bulgarian households are now being affected by poverty too. In a country with a poverty rate lingering around 7.5%, the added impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria is harsh.
Job Losses Due to COVID-19
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bulgaria, 90,000 Bulgarians have lost their jobs. With a total population of just under seven million, job loss is high and forceful as unemployment typically lasts a long time in Bulgaria for those seeking work. Bulgaria is classified as an upper-middle-income nation and prominent industries in the country include mining, construction and agriculture. Historically in Bulgaria, even pre-pandemic, these industries where many Bulgarians find their work are quick to get rid of labor workers that are deemed unnecessary at any given time. As a result, job security is lacking and finding employment after job loss is difficult. With COVID-19 and its economic consequences thrown into the mix, job security only becomes more of a challenge.
Roma Population Especially Affected
Roughly 74% of all Roma families who reside in Bulgaria live below the poverty line. In contrast with the general population of Bulgaria, this number is significantly high. When COVID-19 cases increased in Bulgaria back in late March 2020, the government swiftly locked down Roma neighborhoods with many of these neighborhoods seeing military police barring exits. Given the disconnect to the infrastructure of greater Bulgaria as a result of these lockdowns, poverty has increased among the Roma population as Roma communities have become mostly dependent on themselves with little to no outside help. Already a segregated minority community in Bulgaria before COVID-19, the pandemic has only exacerbated their need for assistance. Bulgarians are struggling with poverty, with the Roma population struggling the most.
The United Against COVID-19 Fund
Recognizing the increasing poverty in Bulgaria and the country’s need for assistance, The United Against COVID-19 Fund was founded in April 2020 at the initiative of the Bulgarian Donors’ Forum, the America for Bulgaria Foundation, U.S. Embassy Sofia and the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria to support the communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In pursuit of providing assistance to these communities, The United Against COVID-19 Fund successfully gathered and distributed BGN 1,006,475 to 112 medical institutions, schools, community centers and others in need. In this collective assistance to 112 imperative infrastructures to Bulgaria’s fight against COVID-19, it is estimated that The United Against COVID-19 fund reached and assisted about 700,000 people during its eight-week operation.
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria has been harsh. COVID-19-induced job loss has been rampant, and in an already unpredictably harsh unemployment environment, the effects of job loss are only intensified. The Roma population of Bulgaria has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and given their pre-pandemic segregated status, lockdown restrictions have secluded them further and heightened their already urgent need for poverty aid. On a positive note, The United Against COVID-19 Fund has made a significant difference in helping Bulgarians recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, with more assistance from other international players, Bulgaria can successfully recover from the impact of COVID-19.
– Dylan James