Youth inequalities in Chemnitz

Youth inequality in Chemnitz: main challenges, trends and policies

With 243,000 inhabitants Chemnitz is the third largest city in the federal state of Saxony. In a  triangle with Leipzig and Dresden it is an important core of the Central German Metropolitan Region. According to the OECD denomination, the FUA exactly matches the city boundaries (FUA code DE05). Within the closer region, the city has radial functional relations to adjacent towns. Although Chemnitz incorporates a technical university, the city as a workplace suffers from its workbench function. Head-offices and knowledge functions are elsewhere. Because of emigration and demography, between 1990 and 2005 the city has lost 20% of residents. 

Main challenges, trends and policies

Material and immaterial inequality

From the perspective of a typical East-German city inequality is a matter of everyday experience, especially for all of the young generation. However, inequality has a material and an immaterial side, to which policies to mitigate inequality effects need to respond.

The material side is relatively easily assessed by income, housing, goods, and services as main factors. Mitigating the effects is the traditional realm of redistribution and welfare politics, at which Germany is generally successful.

On the immaterial side, the social and psychological consequences of exclusion and lack of access are more difficult to capture and mitigate. They are not clearly related to material matters. ‘Dissatisfaction and alienation’ are not only a domain of those under threat of poverty.

Projects for vulnerable youth were established across the city focusing on learning and opening paths to self-efficacy. Neighbourhood management and integrative socio-spatial projects focus on partnership between city, youth, and independent welfare service providers.    

Education

Education has been devolved to the states in Germany, who often have handed responsibility to the municipalities. Saxony has chosen a different path to organise schools in a two-tier system. Infrastructure and school-social work are a municipal matter, while tuition, and teachers’  employment remains a state domain. Over the years, the Saxon education system has been judged best performer among the 16 states. However, school social workers criticised social selectivity and high rates of school dropouts. Municipal school-social work is set to compensate for deficits and also provides links to extracurricular education and youth-welfare. It plays an important role in overcoming the stress of the excellence-oriented schools and to build ways back to education for early leavers. Participation of young people is invited on individual school level and through the careers of youth-welfare work, however, stops short of systemic decisions. Co-creation of new state schools between state and parents’ associations is an innovative pathway to boost parents’ participation. 

Employment

Chemnitz as an old-industrialised city was heavily affected by the loss of workplaces after unification in 1990. Unemployment rose to 18.8% in 2002 to be reduced to 5.9% in 2021, coinciding with modernisation of employment profiles. Whereas old-industrial production shrank, administrational and service jobs have grown until 2020. Then Covid19 took its toll despite the introduction of massive short-time labour subsidies. Young jobseekers have benefitted from demographic decline since the economy, and correspondingly workforce demand, picked up around 2010. However, the growth in service jobs is related to an increase in precarious and poorly paid jobs. They open short term opportunities for less qualified youth, but often prove dead-end roads. Also entry into qualified jobs is supported by a two-tier system. State vocational schools provide background knowledge, while trainees work practically as apprentices, usually a clear entry into vocational careers.         

Housing


Housing in Chemnitz has developed under rare context conditions amongst larger German cities, where space and rents are extremely costly. The reasons lie in the demographic shrinkage and emigration of over 20% after 1990 and in the anticipated developments of an ageing population. Chemnitz encompasses a small central administration and business district, larger late 1900s working class districts and massive refurbished GDR panel estates in an open urban grid. A belt of peri urban neighbourhoods surrounds the central areas. 80% of housing is rental and lies under various forms of ‘soft’ rent-rise controls. Vacancies have dropped after 2000, as 19,000 flats were demolished. In 2020 158,000 dwellings were occupied by 133,000 households. For young rent-seekers in general, the city provides affordable opportunities with public and private providers. Often Rents are fit for benefit receivers. Special welfare organisations and neighbourhood managers were contracted to promote experimental housing projects, partly for self-organised housing and vulnerable youth.      

Governance

UPLIFT Partners in Chemnitz stated that good and inclusive governance is the key to sustainably better conditions for vulnerable groups, especially the younger generation. Politics across departmental boundaries and inclusive relations between those working with young people and their clientele have been widely established over the last two decades and are seen as of paramount importance. In urban and youth policies work within a triangle has been established as a success-factor. In youth welfare, administration and politics (public), contracted independent youth welfare NGOs (private) and the wide realm of civil society were established as the norm. From the federal and state sides urban regeneration funds were provided to build networks of good practice. Chemnitz has widely used European funds (ESF, ERDF) to support local projects and their basic structures, to overcome old administrational routines in housing and youth policies.

Discussion and main conclusions

  • Chemnitz has been shrinking after the 1980s and the present demographic factors indicate future shrinkage. As ‘natural’ demographic evaluation and expectable immigration will not overcome this, the city will remain dependent on socially aware good government and governance to sustain. This in mind, the city has focussed especially on urban development, housing, and youth as key experimental policy fields, which have mitigating inequality as a key field of action.
  • The 2006 devolution of federal responsibility in housing and youth policy to the states under the principle of subsidiarity has led to more differentiation and awareness for the local context. EU programmes could be successfully used to develop tailor-made policy solutions on the neighbourhood-level that were actor-inclusive and have activated participation.
  • Material inequality can locally only be mitigated to a limited degree, as the influencing powers increasingly lie with super-regional states and actors and the increasingly global economy. The more so, local projects of different dimensions and with innovative content – e.g. in housing and youth-work – are playing a major role in turning non-material inequality away from frustration and aggression.
  • Intersectional expressions of inequality – poverty, insufficient education, intercultural effects of migration, lack of income, and gender-gaps – can only be overcome by inclusive and participatory practice. Established in youth policies and work, as well as experimental urban development, such approaches need sustained political and budgetary support to become mainstream. Short-term and capricious ‘projectivitis’ is harmful to establishing good practises.   
  • Subsidiarity as a constitutional policy principle has strengthened local actors and their networks. In housing and youth policies actor networks could be established that have mitigated especially the non-material fields of inequality, opening opportunities for vulnerable sections of the population, most of all for young people. However, at the same time, where precarious milieus have solidified in crises, access to these groups for social work has become more unlikely.    
  • Introducing intermediaries – public employees with high independence – as enablers in housing, urban development, youth, and gender matters, has opened opportunities for innovation in social and welfare work in Chemnitz that provide an urban competitiveness factor.