Zoltán Pogátsa's blog on economics in English

Zoltán Pogátsa's blog on economics in English

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


It is often heard from the far right that gypsies are unwilling or unable to sustain a normal job, due to some alleged deficiency of socialisation that leaves them unaccustomed to regular work. When trying to counter these arguments, the more tolerant segments of society have mostly pointed to the high degree of prejudices against Roma in the workplace as the primary reason for their generally very low level of employment.

While doubtless true, this argument is not accepted by extremists, and even reinforces their stereotypes to some degree, with the following logic: 'even pro-Gipsy arguements accept that Gypsies DE FACTO DO NOT WORK'.

Well, recently I came across some very interesting data. It came from the latest available survey of Gypsy employment in Hungary. (It is in itself quite telling that we do not have such sruveys on a regular basis, and the latest such results come from 2004. It shows the lack of commitment of the Hungarian state and goverments to the Roma issue, apart from declarative involvement in 'decades of Roma inclusion' and EU financed 'pilot projects'. But let us leave this aside for now. See the letter of the head of the National Court of Auditors for more detail.)

The survey led by Erzsébet Debreceni concluded that while the rate of Roma employment in rural Eastern Hungary is around 14%, in Budapest some 49% of Roma are employed. Now this is incredibly interesting for three reasons.

Firstly, a 49% employment rate amongst adults in an ethnic subculture is not very far away from the roughly 56% employment rate in Hungary overall. Even if Budapest has a higher employment rate than the national average, 49% is way closer to majority levels than 14% to majority levels in Eastern Hungary. What this really indicates is that BY AND LARGE GYPSIES IN BUDAPEST HAVE FOUND EMPLOYMENT! It is an interesting argument against racists: whenever there is plenty of work, such as in the case of the development pole of a peripheral economy, there will be jobs available for the less educated Roma as well!

Secondly, it provides a hint that either rural Gypsies are very unlike urban Gypsies as a subculture, or an impoverished rural setting provides no opportunities for the poor of the poor, the rural Gypsies. This question would be interesting to investigate further.

Thirdly, the findings provide hope for the future: if any future government would be willing to introduce REAL programmes for Roma emacipation, and if the Hungarian economy improved in general, there is in fact reason to believe that Roma employment could indeed be guaranteed in the longer run, and interethnic tensions could wither away! It has become commonplace to refer to the Communist system as a contrast in terms of how it had been able to create (some claim artificial) employment in industries such as construction to provide work for the Roma, while the market economy is preceived to be unable to do so. Well, these findings suggest that we need not go back to any planned economy to be able to create work for minority groups with lower levels of education.

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