Smart Economics from the Heart of Europe

April 1, 2012

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On the occasion of International Roma Day, April 8, The World Bank's Roma team reflects on the state and significance of Roma inclusion.

Main Points

  • Progress has been made on Roma inclusion in the last decade, but much more needs to be done.

  • Roma inclusion is a human rights issue, and an economic one.

  • The Bank Group has been supporting the European Roma Inclusion Agenda since 2005 and is particularly appreciated for its analytical rigor and poverty analysis.

The dark-haired girl looking confidently into the lens can't be much older than six or seven. She stares intently at the camera, her face full of both hope and determination. In this she is no different than other European children, yet the uncollected garbage and shacks in the background highlight that she faces no ordinary challenges in living up to her dreams and aspirations.

The girl is Roma and lives in a segregated Roma community in Slovakia. She is much more likely to live in poverty than a non-Roma girl of her age.

Indeed, most Roma households (87 percent) are in poverty, and one third goes hungry at least once a month. She has an 18 percent chance of being enrolled in preschool, compared to 72 percent of the general population. Between 12 and upwards of 15 percent of Roma children are streamed into special schools and classes for children with mental disabilities. Odds of graduating secondary school are 9 percent.

And she is unlikely to find self-sustaining work: only 9 percent of women and 20 percent of men living in settlements work, and even then they often earn less than half of what their non-Roma peers earn. The situation is not much better for Roma in neighboring countries.

At the root of these unequal outcomes lies a complex combination of an unfair playing field from birth, a self-reinforcing cycle of unequal opportunities, open discrimination that Roma have faced for generations, and stifled aspirations.

Addressing these deep inequalities for the 10-12 million Roma is a key human rights issue but also smart economics at the heart of Europe's 2020 strategy for Smart and Inclusive Growth. With populations in Eastern Europe aging fast, up to 10-20 percent of new labor market entrants in these countries are young Roma.

As a result of persistent inequalities, their productivity is low, on par with the world's poorest 25 percent of countries. With pension and health expenditures rising quickly, reversing this trend is one of Europe's greatest development challenges.



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Roma Inclusion and The World Bank: Key Milestones


But what will this take?

First, we need an accurate picture of the living conditions of Roma households. A recently completed household survey of marginalized Roma in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and FYR Macedonia- financed by the European Commission Regional Policy and implemented by the UNDP and the Bank in partnership - is an important step in this direction.

Second, we need a better understanding of barriers and cost-effective policy interventions to remove them. For instance, in partnership with the European Commission and the EU Parliament, our team in ECA has recently completed reports on the role of early childhood education and financial inclusion and supported monitoring and evaluation of national Roma inclusion programs to demonstrate the value for money of these investments. These inform the National Strategies for Roma Integration of EU Member States like Bulgaria and Slovakia.


Third, we need sustained investments in education, school to work transition, housing, sanitation, financial inclusion. Several countries are implementing projects in these areas. Our ECA team supports such efforts through lending operations in countries like Bulgaria (early childhood development), FYR Macedonia (improving targeting of social assistance and school attendance), Romania (grants for local initiatives), and Serbia (improving delivery of local services).

Essential to all this is the political will to place Roma inclusion at the center of the European agenda. The Bank, one of the founding members of the Decade of Roma Inclusion and the Roma Education Fund, has been a long-standing supporter of Roma inclusion, and is working closely with international partners-governments, EU institutions, international organizations, and civil society-to foster political will and policy action.

The Bank's work on Roma is inspired by the key tenet that drives its support to address inequality of opportunity around the world: social exclusion results in wasted human potential and often weakens prospects for prosperity and economic growth for all.

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87 %
of Roma households are in poverty, and one third goes hungry at least once a month.
Source »