Growing Number of Russians Living in Poverty

Russian grocery store.  source: rambler.ruThe number of Russians living below the subsistence minimum rose for the first time since 2002, the Novye Izvestia newspaper reports. Government figures indicated that some 24.5 million people, or 17.4% of the population, were living below the poverty line in the first quarter of 2009, up from 16.3% a year earlier.

Economic experts were skeptical of the official figures, and said that the figure would be magnitudes higher, at 40% or more, if internationally recognized metrics were used. Professor Ovsei Shkaratan of the Supreme School of Economics said the official subsistence level, pegged at 5,083 rubles ($160 or €111) for the first quarter of 2009, was so low that it was laughable.

“No, I do not think that 17.4% of the population is a figure to get excited over,” Shkaratan said. “The market basket in Russia has never had anything to do with minimums, subsistence or otherwise. After all, there is more to the “minimum” than the ability to buy bread and cheap trousers. It also implies the ability to repair one’s apartment and furniture… Forget the “minimum basket” the government is talking about because it is but an “impoverishment basket” and nothing else.”

Oleg Shein, the Assistant Chairman of the Duma Committee for Labor and Social Policy, agreed.

“Considering that 60% of Russians cannot afford durables like furniture or household appliances, I’d say that 40-45% of them are already below the subsistence minimum,” Shein said.

As recent economic indicators point to a prolonged recession in the Russian economy, the short-term future of the Russian middle and lower classes seems uncertain.