How do Poles manage to survive?
The Polish media state that the average salary in Poland is around 2500 PLN (2 tys. 428,12 before tax in July 2004, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics in Poland), but most of the Poles just shake their heads in disbelief. (Lies, bloody lies and statistics).
"The media, you know, all the times says that on average people make between 2000 and 3000 PLN, but the truth is that most people make around 800 PLN. There are those that make more, even much more, but they are in minority."
Anna, a divorced mother, that lives in the capital, Warsaw, and makes 1000 PLN per month is not happy.
"I get also 250 PLN from my ex-husband for the kids support and 43 PLN family allowance from the state, which is a joke, really. I pay 700 PLN for the flat and the kindergarten is almost 300, bus and tram card is 66 PLN, phone bill 60 PLN. All that is left, less than 200 PLN for my and my daughter. When I think about it, I am in tears."
Anna's biggest problem is that she has to rent a flat on the open market and, thus, pay the market price. If she owned her own flat, the monthly payment would be much less, around 250 PLN.
If you can't make it on one salary an option is taking up several jobs: Antoni works three jobs 7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day.
He says: "I make almost 3000 PLN a month, and we can afford quite a lot, but my kids cry when I go to work in the evening. You have to trade your leisure time for money."
Ala, his wife, complains: "The cost of living is very high. Bread is 1.60, milk in a carton 2.60, butter 3.40. It is very hard to make it on one salary."
Wanda has a tip how to save money: "I found a room close to the work place and simply walk to and from work. It takes no more than 10 minutes and it is good exercise. I save the money for public transport, which is a plus. I don't have a family; so making 900 PLN is ok, especially since the room I rent is only 300 PLN. And I save on the cell phone. I buy a card for 50 PLN and it lasts for three months, which is cheap."
Karolina has found another solution. She complements her low income by giving private lessons. "Three pupils a week, and my budget has suddenly improved a lot. It is all primary school stuff, so it is fairly easy. I do it, since I need the money."
Unfortunately, most advertised jobs do not pay more than 1000 PLN, complains Alicia, although the demands are high. "They require you to have a command of English and Russian, availability 24 hours a day, and still the wage is low. Even a teacher with a university degree makes only 750 PLN, which is not very encouraging."
She has a tip for low-earners: "Try to try to find a place with an older person and offer her or him your help with cleaning, shopping and so on in return for a reduction in rent."
Bogda has a pessimistic view on the subject: "Unless you are prepared to dress all your life in second hand clothes and eat bread with margarine, you can't possibly survive on such a low salary." She believes that "the best option for many Poles is to leave the country and seek better fortunes abroad although it is not easy to find a job abroad."
The fact remains that if you are a Pole on a low salary, although you might manage to survive, you won't certainly be able to afford a car, a wide-screen TV, or summer vacation in Venice. Who said that life was meant to be easy? Although, Poland is a member of EU, it is still the poorest of its members and it will take many more years before all of its citizens will have an acceptable living standard. Poles do manage to survive, but not much more than that.