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Social Groups and Their Work


Male dance ensemble at folk festival held every five years at Koprivshtitsa
Courtesy Sam and Sarah Stulberg

Postwar Bulgarian society was divided into three social groups, according to type of work. Workers held jobs in the "productive" manufacturing sector of the economy. Employees worked in "non-productive" service and education jobs. The third group was made up of agricultural workers. The intelligentsia, usually considered a subsector of the employee category, held professional or creative positions requiring specific qualifications. In 1987 nonagricultural workers made up 63 percent of the population; employees made up 18 percent, and agricultural workers made up 19 percent. The intelligentsia made up 13.5 percent of the total population in 1985. Both the nonagricultural worker and the employee category grew about 15 percent between the censuses of 1975 and 1985, but the number of agricultural workers dropped steadily through the 1970s and 1980s (see table 8, Appendix). Of all people in the work force in 1990, only 21.7 percent were rated as highly qualified. Sociologists warned that figure would have to more than double if Bulgaria were to become economically competitive with the West.

Most of those registered as workers had jobs in industry. Between 1975 and 1985, the number of workers in the machinebuilding , spare-parts and metal-processing industries increased. Other industries, such as the food industry, the lumber industry, and the fuel industry, lost workers. Most workers were comparatively young, with little education and few work qualifications (see table 9, Appendix). In 1990 some 66.8 percent of industrial workers had a basic education or less. However, young workers were valued because they were considered most capable of adapting to new technology--a critical requirement for upgrading Bulgaria's outdated industrial infrastructure (see Labor Force , ch. 3).

In the 1980s, employment grew in the trade, supply, construction, and transportation sectors. But the sectors requiring primarily intellectual work grew the fastest: research and research services, education, and administration. After growing by 90 percent between 1965 and 1985, administration included 26 percent of all employees and was the largest division of this category. The housing sector was the only component of the employee category that lost jobs between 1975 and 1990.

The number of agricultural workers decreased markedly from 50 percent of all workers in 1965 to 20 percent in 1985. As agricultural production intensified, many agricultural workers were transferred to nonagricultural jobs. In the late 1980s, however, a shortage of agricultural workers occurred because so many people had left the villages. For this reason, labor-intensive farm activities such as harvesting required recruitment of brigades from schools and nonagricultural enterprises. Many of the remaining farm workers could not adapt to new technology. This lack of adaptation inhibited the modernization and mechanization of agricultural processes.

The democratization that followed the Zhivkov regime raised the problem of unemployment, unknown in Bulgaria after 1944 (see Labor and Economic Reform , ch. 3). As of April 1991, some 124,000 Bulgarians were unemployed, with no sign of improvement in the midst of economic restructuring, enterprise shutdowns, and scarcity of raw materials. The highest unemployment rates occurred in Plovdiv and Sofia. Most unemployed persons were under age thirty, and over 60 percent were women. Job vacancies continued to decline in 1991, with most remaining opportunities in low-skilled jobs or hard physical labor. Persons with the highest level of education, such as engineers, economists, and teachers, were least likely to find suitable positions. In 1990 the lack of skilled professional positions spurred a "brain drain" emigration that further threatened Bulgaria's ability to compete on technologically oriented world markets. In the meantime, the country's economy had lost its protected position as a member of the defunct Comecon, putting more pressure on the domestic labor force (see Bulgaria in Comecon , ch. 3).

Because the national welfare system could only accommodate those who lost their jobs because of enterprise shutdown, in 1990 the Bulgarian government began seeking ways to create more jobs. It considered rewarding businesses that added shifts or offered parttime or seasonal work, and it encouraged development of small business. One proposed solution, replacing working pensioners with young unemployed workers, was unworkable because enterprises found it less expensive to continue hiring pensioners.

Data as of June 1992

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