The Situation in Employment Of Roma People Under the 2016–2020 Action Plan
Lack of education and skills makes Roma people hard to employ, resulting in over 50% of working-age Roma unemployed in 2018 (RCC, 2020). Employment is the biggest worry for Roma in Albania, with 84% of surveyed Roma considering it a significant problem, followed by housing 62% and education 46% (Tulumovic, 2018). With an average wage of 1,356 LEK (11 Euros at 2012 prices) per month, underemployment can be a lifelong handicap for Roma families. Although the national action plan 2016–2020 has set the goal of formal employment of Roma at 80% in 2020, in 2018, it was estimated that only 44% of Roma in working-age were employed (Figure 3), with informal employment accounting for 62% of total Roma economic activity. Only 148 persons completed some form of training courses in 2018, well under the expected 265 envisaged at the beginning of the action plan. Moreover, a significant discriminant in training enrollment is the requirement of a specific educational background with at least a few years of schooling, a criterion cutting off several Roma applicants.
Unemployment or inactivity can be explained through several factors; however, lack of jobs, followed by health problems, is the main reason for inactivity (Tulumovic, 2018). Lack of jobs can have an ambiguous meaning; on some occasions, an employer might prefer to keep a position vacant than hiring a Roma, while there is no evidence that preservation of Roma culture pushes young Roma toward isolation or unwillingness to work (M. Veizi, personal communication, August 26, 2020). In contrast with common thinking, receiving social benefits or some social assistance does not affect Roma labor force participation (Abril & Millán, 2019). However, reliance on remittance from abroad may have contributed to low labor force participation, as an increasing number of young Roma have fled Albania seeking better economic conditions abroad. Indeed, according to an assessment from the European Asylum Support Office (2016), 11% of the asylum applications in Germany in 2016 were Roma owning a Western Balkan passport, while the RCC estimates suggest that the Roma population in the Balkans is around 3.5 million, representing around 4% of the total population (RCC, 2020). Accordingly, it seems that Roma people are more likely to emigrate than other ethnic groups in the Balkans, likely due to the significant wage discrimination occurring when formal employment is found, as a non-Roma employee earns on average 45.5% an hour more than a Roma employee (Tulumovic, 2018).
In line with the hidden discrimination affecting Roma, a survey of 1,035 (50% man and 50% women of all ages) Albanians conducted in 2019 by the Balkan Barometer found that 91% of Albanians show support for facilitating access to education and employment of Albanians with disabilities, while only 75% support the same policies when applied to Albanian Roma or other minorities. When Roma people were asked if they experienced discrimination while seeking employment, 34% of Albanian Roma answered yes, often thinking, “Because I am Roma, nobody hires me” (Meçe, 2015). Far worst is that self-perceived discrimination might not consider hidden discrimination, meaning discrimination not evident to the job seeker, like automatically rejecting a job application with a Roma name on it; therefore, the numbers could be even higher. In line with the hidden discrimination hypothesis, 70% of Albanians show support for working with Roma, going to school with Roma kids, and buying from Roma; however, only 22% would support interethnic marriage (Balkan Barometer, 2019). Low support for interethnic marriage shows that Albanians support short and superficial interactions with Roma, like in school or at work, while deeply rooted stereotypes emerge when the relation becomes long-term and family-based.
Likewise, in education, also employment has female Roma particularly disadvantaged, with children in the household or early family responsibilities, as the main reasons behind female dropout from employment or education. In Table 1, we can see differences in labor force participation between Roma and non-Roma, with Roma female labor force participation standing at 29% against 36% for non-Roma female. As most Roma girls get married while still in secondary school, chances to earn a diploma are very slim, thereby getting stuck in precarious or unskilled employment like selling secondhand clothes or recycling garbage (De Soto & Gedeshi, 2002).
Moreover, Roma people are often excluded from social assistance or unemployment benefit due to administrative issues, and especially the new qualification criteria for the Ndihmë Ekonomike (Economic help, Albania’s primary social assistance program) had the effect of diminishing the number of Roma household earning social assistance (D. Hyseni, personal communication, August 30, 2020). Have a registered address, provide a valid identity card (ID), or work for a minimum of 1 year with the same employer are some of the eligibility prerequisites for social assistance or unemployment benefits, conditions often hard to fulfill for Roma people. Accordingly, due to administrative barriers, only 1,215 Roma families out of 30,000 total families received economic assistance in 2016 (Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth, 2018).
The lack of ID makes Roma people not hirable, as they cannot be registered for social insurance, while 5.7% of Roma children aged 0 to 18 were not registered in 2011, making them “forgotten children” (Dauti, 2015). With the current price for an ID card at around 1600 Lek (12 Euro), applying for an ID constitute a significant expense for Roma families, a little nagging that often turns up to be a significant handicap when seeking health care, social assistance, education, and citizens rights in general.
All of the above contribute to demotivate Roma when looking for formal employment, as they will be discriminated against even before the job interview begins, paid on average half of non-Roma, and if later unemployed, social benefits may be delayed or denied altogether. With the above in mind, an unemployment trap is upon the Roma people, as salaries are delayed and notoriously low, meaning that often daily needs cannot be met. Ultimately, the cycle of job discrimination would turn them into demotivated job seeker, seeking only informal self-employment like trash collector or bagging.