If that happens, analysts say, Merkel would be tugged leftward and her coalition partners would use the opportunity to push their minimum-wage plans, which Merkel opposes. Steinbrueck also favors a more generous attitude toward struggling European countries, although he has not suggested he would take Germany in a radically new direction on the bailouts.
Nearly a quarter of all German employees were classified as low-wage earners in 2010 by the research arm of the German Federal Employment Agency, a proportion second only to Lithuania among 17 European countries that the agency studied. So-called mini-jobs, which allow people to earn up to $600 a month without paying taxes but also while receiving fewer benefits, have boomed as a result of reforms put in place in the early 2000s, which replaced the model of full-time, full-benefits employment in some places, such as grocery stores.
In a recent Allensbach Institute survey of Germans ages 30 to 59, just a quarter said they expected to be worry-free about finances in their old age, even though Germany’s per capita income has nearly doubled in the past 20 years.