When Martina ended up alone with her children, she was unable to support them on just one salary, even though their father paid alimony – it was too low. So she had to work three jobs and there was no money for trips or vacations, but at least she was able to cover the basics and the household. However, if her children wanted to go to a summer camp or something broke down in the house, it was her mother who had to help out financially. When she had a tooth pulled, she went for six years without a replacement because there was no spare money, and she was not eligible for any social welfare benefits. “We made it through, but it was like the kids didn’t even have a mother. She was either at work, being busy with household chores or sleeping,” she says with her children now grown.
Jan, theatre director
Jan works as a core director of a large regional theatre and as an artistic director of an independent theatre in Prague – two full-time jobs with two half-time job equivalent salaries. With his two jobs, he makes a total of roughly the average monthly salary. But since each of his jobs is in a different city, he also has double the expenses for accommodation and travel. So at the end of the month, he’s usually broke anyway. “If I have an unexpected financial circumstance, such as going on sick leave due to an injury or having a broken electrical appliance, I simply don’t have the means,” he says.
Luboš, food industry worker
Luboš and his wife are blue-collar workers in Prague – both in top ranking positions in their field. The job involves night shifts, high responsibility, handling money, continuous operation, and stress. They have negotiated a pay increase for this year and therefore have a total gross income of CZK 80,000. Still, it is quite difficult for them to make ends meet in Prague. Luboš supports his mother, so he cannot manage to put a single crown aside, even though he does not pay a mortgage or rent, only the fees in his own home. He commutes to work in his 22-year-old car and every quarter of a year he has it serviced because a part has worn out. “I don’t feel safe in my old car anymore, I drive my whole family in it. So I guess I’ll have to go into debt, even though I know how risky that is these days,” he admits.
Vendula, public servant
Vendula works in public administration in a senior position with fifteen years of experience, yet at the end of the month she regularly has to consider whether she can afford to fill up her car’s gas tank, or whether she will have enough money left for her last weekend grocery shopping before payday. “The economic situation doesn’t allow me to deal with my health issues in peace, because even the shortest period of sick leave is a significant hit to my income, and with the ban on private business for government employees, I don’t have much chance to make up for it with another source of income,” she says. She has set her regular heat and electricity bills high enough so there is no risk of arrears, and has used the overpayments each year to pay for her holidays. This year, she fears she won’t be able to afford it. She is afraid of emergencies, such as not being able to work for an extended period of time. “I have insurance, but if I happen to get sick for a reason other than what the insurance company recognizes, I’m ruined.” She does realise that, compared to the worsening situation of more and more people, she is still relatively well off with her own home. “But at the same time, I really don’t think that as a university-educated professional with many years of experience and a high level of work commitment, I should devote my energy and drive to solving existential problems”, she states.
Milan, public servant
Milan is a civil servant for four years now. He is amongst the best paid in his field, yet he takes home 28 000 Kč (approx. 1 085 €) per month after taxes. He is not in financial distress per se, as he and his girlfriend are able to afford the occasional weekend trip around Europe. Nevertheless, he has a desperate lack of savings: “At the most, I save a little from what my partner contributes to our studio apartment rental.” In fact, their most pressing problem has to do with housing. “Moving to a bigger apartment in Prague is out of the picture for us now. I don’t know what we would do if Janča were to get pregnant.”
Naděžda, divorced teacher
Naděžda is a teacher at a private hospitality high school in Zlín, where she makes approx. 21 000 Kč (approx. 824 €) after taxes. Her financial stability comes from working a second job – on the weekends she tutors adults who want to complete high school and sometimes she helps out her son with his company’s accounting. From her divorce she inherited an apartment in a housing cooperative, which ends up eating up a lot of her funds. The necessity of a second and even at times a third job has affected how Naděžda sees herself. “I don’t seem middle class to me – my second job is the only thing that gets me by. But what kind of person cannot get by on one job?”
Anna is a caregiver who lives with two teenage kids in Prague and with her husband who is a chemist. Together their monthly income is 38 000 Kč (approx. 1490 €) after taxes. That money automatically goes each month to paying their mortgage (15 000 Kč, approx. 588 €) and another 5 000 Kč for the kids’ extracurricular activities, school expenses, and internet, meaning that the entire month’s expenses and food has to be covered with the remaining 18 000 Kč (approx. 706 €). They neither have a car nor smartphones, and they go on vacation to their grandmother’s cottage. Both husband and wife take their lunch to work every day and still there is nothing left to put into savings at the end of the month. Whenever there is an unplanned expense, it is always a bit of a problem. For instance, when all of them need to see the dentist at the same time, it adds up to several thousand crowns. “We can pay for it, but then we have to use money for food or shoes,” explains Anna. Recently, Anna had to put off getting her kids vaccinated against tick encephalitis and meningitis.
Tomáš is a carpenter who runs a small business in a little village in Vsetínsko with his friend. The work is seasonal so they have to take on bigger jobs in the nearby town to make up for the winter. Tomáš owns his own home, where he lives with his wife and three children. The construction and rennovating of his house takes a chunk out of his already limited income – at least their sheep and horse raising is partially covered by European subsidies. After a long parental leave, Tomáš’s wife is finishing up a basic teaching certification – she wants to work and, in fact, she needs to. As their kids get older, even covering the basics like preschool, extracurricular activities, transportation, and, at the very least, one vacation in the Czech Republic has become a problem. “My wife is working in a nursery as an assistant. We hoped that this would bring some financial stability to our lives, but instead we were shocked by the minimum wage entry pay.”
Luboš, university associate professor
Luboš is an associate professor at a university in Prague. He doesn’t own a cottage nor a car, yet thanks to occasional side jobs or bonuses, he has enough for at least a vacation. His pay, 29 000 Kč (approx. 1 137 €) after taxes, is enough for him to live day-to-day in Prague. However, it is hard for him to make long-term plans. In spite of his prestigious social standing, the main obstacle he has to living a decent life is still something basic: housing. For ten years now, he lives on his own in a one-room apartment with a built-in bathroom and sees no chance for improvement. “I didn’t have enough for a mortgage before. And now even when I finally have a permanent employment contract, it is too late for one because of my age.“
Agáta, marketing specialist and new mother
Agáta is a freelance marketing specialist. Before she got pregnant she contributed the same amount as her partner to the household. Her monthly income was 22-26 000 Kč (approx. 863-980 €). Pregnancy, however, changed this harmonious situation. A severe case of anemia forced Agáta to work less, although she was able to at least take on some jobs up until a month before the birth. To a large extent, the financial burden now lies on her partner’s shoulders. As if that weren’t enough, their landlord told them out of the blue that their apartment building would be sold. After much deliberation, they decided to get a mortgage, albeit slightly against their better judgement. Again, Jiří, her partner had to contribute more and, to make matters worse, the down payment ate up all of their savings. “Right now we’re just enjoying our baby and glad that the worst is behind us. The question is, what’s around the corner?”
Jana, married social worker
Jana is a social worker in Liberec. Her job is both extremely mentally demanding and time consuming, so she is not able to make money on the side. Regardless, as project manager she is making a mere 17 000Kč (approx. 667 €) after taxes. “I knew what I was getting into when I decided to study this – I don’t need to be rich, this is my calling. But after a few years a person gets burned out.” It is hard to make long-term plans living in the fifth largest city on an income under 20 000Kč (approx. 784 €). “Kuba doesn’t make much more than me. We got married recently, but so far kids are out of the picture – without savings we would run into serious problems by taking a chunk like that out of our income.”
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