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Unemployment in Poland: Historically

Unemployment is one of the most serious problems in Polish social and economical life in a present time.

Changing of a political system did not improve this situation. It rather made it worse like it happens usually during a transition period. The unemployment during the last ten years oscillates around 18% in Poland. It is much higher than the average unemployment in Europe (10%).

Poland is in a turning point. This week referendum, 7-8 June 2003, would decide whether Poland would join European Union or not. Please read about benefits and shortcomings of joining European Union and also about Polish-American relations in previous articles. Whatever the outcome will be, would definitively affect the structure and level of Polish unemployment. We hope, that whatever decision Poles would choose, it would rather help to overcome economical problems, also unemployment.

Lets look at unemployment from historical point of view first. The unemployment problem is as old as a world industrial revolution and a free market.

Polish history of unemployment in XX century has three distinct periods:

1. Poland between WW I and II (1918-1939), II Rzeczpospolita

Unemployment grew to the numbers not seen before. It was caused to a large extend by poor economical situation inherited after previous occupants of Poland. Poland was partitioned from the end of XVIII until the end of World War I by Prussia, Austria and Russia. The occupants did not really care for economical development of Poland. Poland was underinvested and without industry except Silesia which had a mining industry highly developed (Prussian part). Poland served mainly as a producer of food and cheap labor. Polish villages were overcrowded, especially in a region of Galicia (Southeastern part of Poland). It was hard to bound three Polish regions, previously occupied by three different countries in one efficiently organized and interconnected structurally state.

The situation was worsen by a high birth rate which was characteristic to the post-war time. The post-war period was also characterized by a hyperinflation which was stopped by the economical reforms of of Grabski. Of course Poland did not avoid a Big Crisis in the beginning of 30-es. But the Polish Crisis lasted longer than in the majority of developed countries and it was still not over by 1935. The unemployment in middle thirties was still about a half of million people. Therefore Polish government initiated constructing of a new Central Industrial Region (called COP from Polish name "Centralny Okreg Przemyslowy") in so called Poland B. Poland B was underinvested and a rural part of Poland as compared to Poland A - higher industrially developed and urbanized). The region of COP encompassed the ethnically Polish region with high density of population of the Central-East Poland. The unemployment in this region like everywhere in rural area was very high - reaching 13% in age group: 14-59. The region was still far from this time boarder with Soviet Union, one of the reason - the main industry developed there was a defense industry. The biggest towns of this industrial district were Kielce, Lublin, Radom, Przemysl, Sandomierz etc . The development of the COP was the biggest Polish investment between the wars besides a constructing of a new sea-port, Gdynia. The economical situation gradually was improving until the War World II started.

2. Poland during Communism

According to the communistic doctrines the unemployment was non-existing in a global scale (the official unemployment level was less than 1%). But … many people still were either underemployed or just simply useless at work. They were hired but they were not given a job or several people were doing a job which could be done by one person. I was writing more about it in the article The Work Ethics in Poland (IV); Hidden Unemployment, Weak Currency . Why so many people were underemployed? The communistic system was promising a free education for everybody. Many people benefited from this system and accomplished their education with university degree. What for? - if their salaries were usually lower than salaries of some people with only technical degree but a hot job in private sector - like repairing TV or refrigerators.

Planned economy demanded that the federal companies had to hire a certain quota of people whether they needed it or not. Some economists estimated that the hidden unemployment in state-ruled companies was about 50%. That mean that typically two people were doing a job which could be done by one person. The development of industrialization of Poland and a development or even
over-development of some heavy industry like mining or steel industry caused a high demand for people with technical degrees for working in heavy industry. On the other hand service, tourism, business and small private companies were overlooked and neglected.

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