Several hundred thousand Hungarians have emigrated since the political change, and this will be a topic at the election on 6 April. For those people involved, this is not a political question but a decision to opt to live abroad for a better, more dignified future.
Emigration was out of the question for the inhabitants of the “happiest barracks” in the former socialist camp, but after the change of regime people’s budding hopes turned again towards the question of migration. But even when we joined the European Union in 2004 the Hungarians – as opposed to the Polish for instance – did not feel the need to take their chances in massive numbers on the liberalised Western labour markets. They only discovered Great Britain, for example, after the global financial crisis broke out in 2008.
If we look at the ratio of incomes and prices in Hungary today, we can easily understand what motivates the emigrants. According to the Hungarian Statistical Office net wages in Hungary average around EUR 500 a month – however, this amount has not been growing in euro parity for years and the forint has never been so weak against the “hard currencies” as it is today.
While the average citizen only sees prices rising, the reputation of jobs abroad has got better and better as the success stories of “dishwashers” have spread. Anyone who could find a well-paid job in Western Europe could easily save several hundred euros a month after overcoming the start-up problems, and qualified workers are easily able to earn EUR 1,000 or even higher.
Estimates put the number of Hungarians employed abroad at about half a million, and the World Bank estimates that 460,000 emigrants have transferred home about EUR 1.5-2 billion each year since joining the EU.
It’s probably logical that the possibility of being able to save EUR 5,000 a year would motivate a Hungarian to move, because at home an average citizen hardly earns more than this amount in a year – and with that you cannot even dream about saving. The average wages are even a bit misleading, because nearly two-thirds of full-time employees bring home no more than HUF 100,000 (converting to only about EUR 300-plus).
There are some other statistics that estimate how much money a well-situated Hungarian would need to live in this country in nice conditions, namely around HUF 200,000-250,000 per capita; so a family with two children would need an income that corresponds to the net salaries of Western Europe. According to “Joe Bloggs” the cost of a decent life is rather around a modest sum of HUF 100,000-120,000; of course this is per capita. From the net wages that millions of workers and employees are taking home each month, practically nothing is left for any savings.
The reality can be measured more exactly. The statistics contain data based on Hungarian retail sales, where we can calculate that a family of four spent about HUF 3 million on consumer goods in 2012. This translates into about EUR 10,000 in Western currency that an emigrated Hungarian might save in about two years of work. So where both children are working for the well-being of those who stayed at home, the way to family wealth is clear.