Poland counts the cost of losing millions of its workers

Fri Dec 5, 2014 3:01am EST
 
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By Wiktor Szary

OPOLE, Poland (Reuters) - "I'm staying here!," reads a grime-covered slogan on the side of a train in Opole, south-west Poland. It's a legacy of a local campaign aimed at discouraging young people from moving abroad.

The campaign didn't work.

After 1.2 million of its citizens migrated in the ten years since Poland joined the European Union, the country is counting the economic and social cost. Though its workers may have eased demographic difficulties in ageing countries like Britain and Germany, Poland now has a population crisis of its own.

Those who left were predominantly the young and economically active. For a while the billions of euros they sent back helped the economy - remittances were worth 2 percent of the country's GDP in 2009 alone - and enabled it to avoid recession but that money is drying up as they choose to settle permanently abroad.

As a result Poland's social security system is creaking badly. The country will spend almost a third of its budget in 2015 subsidizing pensions - a ratio only likely to increase as the population ages and grandchildren are born abroad.

"To put it very simply, millions of workers emigrating and not paying anything in means no pensions for millions of retirees," said Janusz Kobeszko, analyst at the Sobieski Institute, a Warsaw-based think tank.

Demographic projections show Poland will lose nearly 3 million people in the next 25 years, partly through migration and partly because women who leave Poland are more likely to have children than those who stay, official data shows.

While Poland's pensions crisis looms, a more immediate migration-related problem is presenting itself: shortages of labor at home.   Continued...