Hungary’s Countryside Poverty Trap Explained

  • 23 Sep 2016 9:00 AM
Hungary’s Countryside Poverty Trap Explained
“I don’t know what will be the last straw, but this inaction is killing me . . . The worst feeling is that even at (the age of 26) I cannot help (my parents)” – Nóra

Translation of Eszter Prokai’s article “Only cleaning ditches awaits college graduates in the countryside” appearing in online daily on September 8th, 2016.

Not even a diploma, the ability to speak two foreign languages, and the necessary ambition can prevent you from falling into the public works trap if you live in a small village and your parents cannot support you. Nóra went to university because she felt she was destined to do more than clean ditches, but she is starting to feel as though there was little point.

She has been applying for jobs for months, but from the countryside it seems impossible to find work in the capital city. Nóra (we have changed her name at her request) is 26 years old. She graduated from a reputable university but has yet to receive her diploma.

For that she needs two intermediate language examples, but for now she only has one. She is preparing the second one at home on her own because she has no money for a private teacher. We spoke with the young Roma girl about how difficult it is to find work in Budapest without technical experience or savings. Nevertheless, Nóra would like to find a job suited to her degree, or anything that does not involve physical labor. She envisions this in Budapest. However, her experiences of the past months show that there is almost no chance of succeeding.


Nóra does not presently have a job, and therefore she has no income. Last year thanks to a scholarship she was able to attend an English course in Budapest. Some of the scholarship money she received remains but it is not enough for her to pursue her dream of living an independent life in the capital city. Presently she is being supported by her parents employed in public work. They live in a small village in Borsod county in a house without running water. The water for their bath is brought from a well in the street.

“I think this correctly reflects our financial circumstances,” she adds.

She registered at the local employment center, but they did not offer her any work opportunities. And since she does not have enough continuous work history behind her, she is not entitled to receive the monthly HUF 22,000 (USD 80) social support. She would start a course, but she says that would only result in a pointless degree. She does not even count on receiving help from the local authorities and thinks it is humiliating how they treat people there.

She could stay in the county, but apart from public work there is nothing there. Apart from her diploma she has an advanced vocational certificate as well, but her experience to date is that this is not the path in which a Roma can find a job. “I’ve already given up trying to find a job in this field,” she says. Several years ago she worked as a porter and a secretary too, but such employment opportunities no longer exist in the region.

Even if she wanted to, she could not get public work and in any case they wouldn’t invite her. But this doesn’t bother her that much. Not because it would be smelly to have to clear ditches, but she feels that is not why she studied, and at the age of 26 she is called to do more. She calculated that if she were to engage in public work where she lives, then she would have to work at least for four months to earn enough money to leave. Meanwhile, her hands would be tied, and it is not easy to leave pubic work to travel to the capital city by bus for two hours for a job interview.

Life in Budapest would mean a sublet room for her. She is not even considering renting a flat. The existential support sounds good, but for that money and a valid employment contract are necessary in order to qualify. The support is HUF 100,000 (USD 360) a month for a year, but paid retroactively, and the condition is that she live in a sublet whose owner issues an invoice for rent, which is not very common.

One possibility remains, and that is that she apply to the local government for extraordinary assistance (she would receive roughly HUF 5,000/USD 18), but she hasn’t done this yet.

They aren’t waiting for anyone

Since she has neither a sublet, nor an acquaintance with whom she could stay, nor money put aside with which to rent a room for even a few days in Budapest, this rules out her chances of starting work immediately. Companies, on the other hand, are not willing to pay this based on her interviews to date. “In order to move up, I would need at least HUF 50,000 to be able to take a dormitory room for a month or rent something.

But apart from money, it also takes time to find something. So, even if somebody was prepared to hire her immediately, they would have to wait at least a month. Most employers are not willing to do so, she says.

Traveling to a job interview without money is not easy either: the bus costs HUF 2500 (USD 9) each way. She anticipated this, which is why before the end of her English course she looked for work, visiting numerous places. She was mostly looking for office work, but she said that it is not easy to find a company that does not require many years of experience.

She cannot do physical work because she had problems with her spine a year ago and is afraid that the problem will return from too much standing or physical burden. “But if there is nothing else, then I will undertake it.”

She loves Budapest. Within the framework of the scholarship program she lived there for a year. “Until then I lived 120 km from Budapest. I couldn’t even imagine that if I had the urge to eat an ice-cream at 10 pm, that I could buy one two bus stops away from me. It was also good that I didn’t have to travel one and a half hours to go to the cinema, and that I could pay my telephone bill easily,” she says as evidence of her desire to live in the capital city.

The people her age in her village all went abroad a long time ago or perform public work. There are hardly any youth in the neighborhood. Nóra is also starting to think about leaving the country. “I don’t know what will be the last straw, but this inaction is killing me,” she says. She is thinking about Austria, but without knowledge of the language she won’t find work suitable to her degree.

For this reason, it is more realistic that she will end up working as a washer or a cleaner. But for now that is just a dream, because moving abroad would cost more than coming to Budapest. She doesn’t want to ask a loan from anybody, nor could she. She feels bad that her parents support her.

“The worst feeling is that even at this age I cannot help them,” she says.

Source: Budapest Sentinel

Republished with permission

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