CHAPTER THREE
WEFARE TRAP AND URBAN HAPPINESS

Life was tough at the start of the conflict in Iraq for Yosef, who could not find a decent job to support his family. In September 2007, he decided to take a leap of faith and travel over 4,000 kilometers to Sweden. In January 2008, he finally settled in a predominantly immigrant community in the suburb of Stockholm city called Rinkeby, which is only a 15-minute subway ride from the capital city center. His wife and his two small children came a year later. They were among 6,083 Iraqis who arrived in Sweden in 2008.

Yosef holds a master’s degree in business from the University of Baghdad, which he obtained back in 2001. In his forties, he seems to be outspoken, articulate, and has a sense of humor. He lives in a decent two-bedroom flat subsidized by social welfare department, which is bright, colorful and has a breathtaking view over the community. A 55-inch flat-screen television is mounted on the wall and a big fish tank gurgles in the corner of the living room. A few industrially manufactured chocolates and some junk mail are also visible on the kitchen table. A golden Persian cat peeks out from under the furniture. His two teenage daughters are playing on the floor. His living environment is extremely clean, decorated nicely and has the Scandinavian cultural element of simplicity and functionality.

After two years of language training, Yosef applied for a job at a number of companies with no promising result. He later created his profile on job search website, and his best guess was he applied for 250 to 300 jobs in Stockholm city under two years, approximately three job applications per week. Up to this point, all the jobs he has applied were unappealing to employers. Then, throughout 2010 to 2012 he attended a handful of computer, language, reintegration and CV writing courses sponsored by the state. On the last stretch of his job hunting, Yosef spent a lot of time sending off his resume to different international companies in the Nordic countries. He believed the success of any application has to do with the quality education, communication skill and European sounding name. His hope for a job interview became the most central activity for his success. Ten years after searching and sending off resume after resume, Yosef has not yet been called for a single job interview. After all these rejections, he lost interest in his job search by concluding that his job searching activities was more like a social entertainment than an expression of hope for employment. He has fallen into the arms of social welfare just like other immigrants.

Yosef’s impression on the welfare state’s objective was nothing more than a puzzle that he hardly understood. His inability to see the whole picture in a cause-and-effect relationship fostered in him a love-hate relationship with the social welfare system. Something is telling him that there is a deep sense of anxiety in his life, but he is unable to identify the source of his pain. To him there is no separation between individual success and luck, which made him to feel guilty from time to time about his choice of immigrating to Sweden. But the Swedish social welfare has provided him citizenship, state funded social housing, free public transportation, free health insurance and a monthly cash payment. His two children also received monthly allowances and attended public school, which provided free education, transportation, computer, books and school lunch.

In 2015, his apartment’s rent was 6,300 kronor (around USD$900), his cash assistance was around 3,500 kronor (roughly USD$500), and his utility bills were about 650 kronor (USD$92) per month. Social welfare covered for the cost as well as his home insurance, basic dental care and medicine. Nevertheless, Yosef seems to be unhappy with the social welfare office where he needs to be connected and has to settle all his financial transactions on a monthly basis. “I would never have imagined that I would one day need social help to survive.” In his culture, people are taught that a man on social benefit is a malingerer and that his own poor decision is responsible for his situation. People look down on welfare recipients, make their own assumptions and put them into the stereotypes...

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