Latvia is one of the poorer EU countries. Since the mid-1990s, the country, like the other Baltic states, has experienced strong economic growth, with the exception of the last years of the 1990s when the country suffered a serious financial crisis. Prosperity is unevenly distributed in the country and the differences grew even larger with the economic crisis in the late 00s. The average salary in Lithuania in 2007 was just over EUR 560, while the minimum wage was just over EUR 170. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of LVA and acronym for Latvia.
The difference between city and countryside was less pronounced in Latvia during the Soviet era than in other parts of the Union. However, both income and social benefits, and thus living conditions, were to some extent dependent on where one was employed, as employers, rather than the state and local authorities, were often responsible for the social service. In addition to the party elite operating in Latvia, the employees of the Union-led industry in particular constituted a favored group, while members of the collective farming sector were usually the last to benefit from social benefits.
After the liberation, unemployment rose dramatically. In 1996, Latvia had an unemployment rate of over 20%. During the 1990s, unemployment dropped to more normal levels around 7–8% in order for 2009 to rise again. In 2011, the unemployment rate was 15.4%.
The retirement age in Latvia is 62 years for both men and women. Pensions are linked to work and in order to be entitled to old-age pension you must have been insured for at least ten years. In 2006, 78% of the workforce was covered by the pension system. A needs-tested allowance is paid to those who are not entitled to a pension.
Latvia is among the countries in Europe that provide the lowest state support to families with children. The allowances include a sum for each child born and then child allowance. Parental leave is possible for the mother for 56 days before birth and the same length of time after the birth of the child. The father is entitled to ten days’ leave in connection with birth. In connection with budget cuts in 2009, the levels of both child support and parental allowance were lowered. In 1992, unemployment benefits were introduced. The current unemployment insurance policy was introduced in 1999. The insured must meet a working condition of at least one year to qualify for compensation, and the levels are 50-65% of the insured’s income, depending on the length of the continuous working hours preceding the unemployment.
Compared to other European countries, healthcare in Latvia maintains a low standard. Access to health care is formally equal for citizens, but self-contributions and widespread use of bribes have created inequalities in health care as well. The Latvian healthcare system has changed dramatically since the mid-1990s. At that time, 95% of the entire health care sector was public; today the figure is only 60%. However, investments in primary care and decentralization have contributed to increased efficiency, and both medical density and the number of health care sites have decreased during the period. Like many other areas of society, health care suffered from the sharp cost reductions that were implemented at the end of the 1990s. In addition to strained public finances, Latvian public health places great demands on health care.
As in neighboring Lithuania, equality between women and men is poorly developed in Latvia. The country was the worst of the EU countries in the 2011 UNDP Gender Equality Index (a weighting of several different gender equality indicators). 20% of Latvia’s MPs are women (2011). Another unflattering similarity between the countries is the widespread discrimination against gay and bisexual people.