Łódź, with 670,000 inhabitants, is among the largest but poorest cities in Poland (its GDP growth lags behind other big cities but still above the national average). The city and its functional urban area – which FUA is not officially recognised and structured into a governance scheme – is located 120 kilometres south-west to the capital of Warsaw. The post-industrial heritage of the city significantly marks its economic potential. The labour market serves mainly low-skilled workers, high-skilled workers mostly out-migrate to other, economically more prosperous locations in Poland. Besides, a significant influx of low-skilled international workforce (mainly from Ukraine, Belarus or Vietnam) shapes the outcomes of the labour market. These processes are reflected in demographic trends as shrinkage and aging which also puts a pressure on the development possibilities of Łódź.
Poland has traditionally been facing with a housing shortage all over the country. The most significant tenure form is home ownership (84%) and in parallel with this trend, the share of the municipal housing stock has been decreasing. There were several national housing programmes to improve the inclusivity and sustainability of the housing sector but their scale was limited. The supply – demand difference is less challenging in Łódź due to its shrinking nature, but the most vulnerable households face severe housing problems (the waiting list for social housing contains 7,000 families). Łódź has a substantial share of municipally owned housing (about 12% of the stock), but nearly half of it is uninhabitable due to bad technical conditions. The renovation of public housing is implemented with a high intensity from local and EU funds for 10 years in the centre of the city, where the socially and physically marginalised blocks are located.
The employment rate had been increasing while the number of registered unemployed had been decreasing thanks to the favorable economic trends in Poland in the last decade, before the Covid crisis. This trend is similar concerning young people and Łódź voivodship is among the best performing regions with regard to youth unemployment (13.6% of the unemployed were below 30 in 2019, and the general unemployment rate in the city was 3.3%).Not specifically the low employment or high unemployment which causes difficulties in the labour market of Łódź, rather the generally low level of wages compared to other big cities of Poland and the outmigration of the highly qualified labour force due to the relatively low profile of the economy. The passive and active labour market policies are provided by the state but are implemented on county (this case Łódź) level, and involve thousands of young people each year. Still, it was observed by local experts that most of the NEET young people are not registered for these specific programmes and are hardly affected or only experience short-term impact.
Indicators show a promising picture about the educational system in Poland. There is a systematic improvement in terms of preventing early school leaving, outstanding PISA results are measured and also there is a growing share of the population obtaining tertiary degree. Several reforms have led to the decentralization and democratization of the educational system including the involvement of parents, residents into the decision making. This endeavour has declined since 2017. Despite the good results shortcomings such as gaining basic competences has also been noticed and led to further reforms.
Łódź is an education centre, with a university of 26,000 students, and 119 secondary schools. Students with unfavourable financial background are supported through scholarship programmes, however the general economic growth till 2020 reduced the number of eligible students substantially (to 2,500).
Social inequality indicators (Gini index, at risk of poverty rate) in Poland are lower than the EU average but absolute poverty indicators (e.g., material deprivation) are similar to that of the EU. The at risk of poverty rate is lower in Łódź region compared to the national average but poverty is persisting especially in the downtown areas. The favourable situation is partly the result of the improving economic situation after the financial crisis (which was temporary broken by the Covid pandemic) and partly the national welfare programme that favours mostly families with children (e.g. 500+ programme). Tackling social inequalities is not specifically at the centre of Łódź municipality (3.1% of the inhabitants of Łódź were the beneficiaries of local service provision in 2020), but inside the social framework elderly and families in generational deprivation in the downtown area are in the focus.
Discussion and conclusions
- The financial crisis had only a moderate impact on Poland’s economy (GDP did not decrease) but Łódź, as well as other cities, has suffered from an increased unemployment rate. The crisis was followed by an economic boom, and the Covid crisis seems also to have a temporary effect.
- Łódź is a shrinking post-industrial city facing downward demographical trends: outmigration of high-skilled work force and aging. Still, social inequality in the city is relatively low, with a stable lower-middle class that has an improving quality of life.
- The framework of certain welfare policies (employment, social allowances) is set on national level, and implemented by deconcentrated local units, that have limited space to work out specific local interventions.
- The most room of manoeuvre can be observed in case of education (primary and secondary) – even if the main methodologies are set on national level – and in providing public housing. In these fields Łódź municipality performed significant efforts to mitigate inequalities (e.g. extensive scholarship programme in education and intense renovation of deteriorated downtown neighbourhoods and a relatively high share of public housing). On the other hand these efforts have limited social impact; in case of education the number of students being eligible for scholarship is decreasing as the income threshold is not indexed properly; and in case of urban rehabilitation the renovation of the public housing stock leads to crowding-out the socially more vulnerable layers from the downtown areas.
- The local youth agenda concentrates on keeping the educated young people in the city, while young age group is not considered specifically vulnerable from a social point of view. Social policy focuses rather on elderly and families suffering from generational social difficulties, mostly living in the downtown area, which is currently under urban rehabilitation.
- Most of the policies that are relevant from a social perspective (employment, housing, social protection, special education programmes against inequalities) are financed from EU funds in Poland, and Łódź urban area is strongly benefiting from these. Thus the performance of the city with regard to social measures is somewhat independent of its economic performance, as it is mostly financed from central resources (except for housing).