Poverty drives central Europe’s great exodus

By Ioana Patran and Sam Cage: (Reuters) – Maria Ene’s traditional white house on a muddy, unnamed Romanian street doesn’t have running water, but it does have two satellite dishes sprouting from its fence.

Three of Ene’s five children have moved to Spain. It’s not that far, but with everyone feeling the pinch of Europe’s economic downturn, she sees them once a year at most, and needs to feel connected.

“I saw them on the Internet,” said Ene, 69, who lives in the small village of Lupsanu, 75 km east of Bucharest.

“A grandson of mine showed them to me as I felt at one point I could not go on,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

“It’s hard there for them, but what would they do here? There at least they have a job.”

More than 20 years after the fall of communism, the wealth gap between the east and west of Europe persists, and countries from the Black Sea to the Baltic are shedding people at an alarming rate.

While membership in the European Union has brought prosperity to many, it has also made it easier to emigrate, drawing young people out of the east, especially rural areas, and leaving behind an ever older and poorer population.

Romania, the EU’s second-poorest member with an average monthly wage of $450, is one of the worst affected, with a 12 percent population drop in a decade, according to census data.

At the other end of the continent, the census in Latvia – a Baltic state which was seen as a great success story until the current financial crisis sent its economy into freefall – showed it lost 13 percent of its people, mostly to emigration.

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