About the Roma
The Roma make up the largest and most vulnerable minority group in Eastern Europe. Although exact population estimates vary, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia has the highest shares of Roma within the overall population in the entire EU. Roma communities are subject to considerable economic vulnerability, reflecting a complex set of interrelated challenges. In Eastern Europe, by far most Roma households (71 percent or more) live in deep poverty. These families reside in highly developed countries, yet they have to cope with levels of poverty and deprivation on par with the poorest areas of the world, and face bleak economic prospects due to persistent unemployment and low levels of education. The gap between a Roma family and an average European family broadens every day.
In all Roma households, household members suffer from hunger. The odds of graduating secondary school are at most 29 percent, and much lower in some of the countries in the region, especially among girls. In addition, only less than half of Roma men and a quarter or less of Roma women have been able to find jobs. At the root of these unequal outcomes lies a fundamentally unfair playing field, starting at birth and continuing throughout the lives of most Roma individuals. This spurs a self-perpetuating cycle of unequal opportunities, ethnic discrimination and stifled aspirations.
Addressing these deep inequalities for the Roma is a key human rights issue, but also a smart economic strategy for the countries concerned: with the rapidly aging populations in Eastern Europe, up to 10-20 percent of new labor market entrants in these countries are young Roma. Getting this group into jobs would increase national GDP levels as well as government revenues substantially. The issues at stake are also at the heart of Europe's 2020 strategy for Smart and Inclusive Growth.