Poverty in Switzerland: fresh data on those struggling to get by

In 2019, the poverty line in Switzerland was CHF 27,348 (US$ 30,500) for a single person and CHF 47,712 (US$ 53,200) for a couple with two young children. The figures are calculated by SKOS based on the cost of living in Switzerland. People with incomes below these levels in Switzerland are considered to by living in poverty.

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In 2019, 8.7% of Switzerland’s population was living on less that these amounts, up 0.8 percentage points from 7.9% in 2018.

Those most likely to living below the poverty line were people over 65 (13.6%), single mothers (19.3%), and the unemployed (24.6%). Certain groups of foreigners were more likely to be below the poverty line than average. Swiss nationals (6.6%) and foreigners from western and northern Europe (4.8%) were less likely than average (8.7%) to be below the line. However those from southern Europe (10.4%) and the rest of the world (17.5%) were significantly more likely than average to be in poverty. There were also notable differences by region. The rate in German-speaking Switzerland (7.1%) was lower than the rates in French- (9.7%) and Italian-speaking Switzerland (10.0%).

Welfare payments and other social transfers made a big difference. These reduced Switzerland’s raw poverty rate from 31.8% to 8.7%.

In addition to looking at the percentage of the population below the poverty line, researchers also looked at the inability to pay bills as they fall due. 15.1% said they had trouble making at least one payment on time. The most likely outstanding bills were tax (8.7%), health insurance (5.9%) and consumer debt repayments (5.1%).

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Poverty in Switzerland was lower than in much of the rest of Europe. Across Europe the rate of material depravation in 2019

ranged from 44.1% (North Macedonia) to 3.7% (Luxembourg). The EU average was 12.0%. The rate in Switzerland was 4.9%, trailing only Sweden (4.7%) and Luxembourg (3.7%). Italy (14.1%), France (11.1%), Germany (6.8%) and Austria (5.9%) were all had higher rates.

In addition, income distribution in Switzerland was less unequal than across much of Europe. The S80/S20 – the ratio of the income of the top 20% to the bottom 20% – was 4.8 in Switzerland in 2019. The EU average was 5.1. Italy (6.0), Spain (5.9), Portugal (5.2) and Germany (4.9) all had higher ratios. However, France (4.3) and Austria (4.2) had lower ratios than Switzerland.

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