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Statistics Suggest Half Of Iranians Living In Poverty

Maryam Sinaee

Around half of Iranians have fallen into poverty after a rapid increase in the cost of basic items in recent months, according to a welter of new, if sometimes inconsistent, statistics on family income and expenses.

The Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) published on October 4 a report suggesting that 70 percent of “ordinary workers” could afford only 33 percent of their basic needs. Hamidreza Emamgholitabar, an official of Labor Unions Supreme Council, on September 25 told Bourse Press that more than half the country’s population were in absolute poverty, basing this on an “optimistic” average wage of 30 million rials per month, equal to $100 at the current exchange rate.

Iran’s economy has been in recession since United States sanctions slashed oil exports from 2.6 million barrels a day in early 2018 to perhaps a few hundred thousand today. The resulting loss of foreign currency income has resulted in a ten-fold decline in the value of the Iranian rial.

The Iranian government has not announced poverty figures over the past few years. The only semi-official figure for a ‘poverty line’ is a monthly income of 45 million rials (roughly $150) for a family of four, as stated in a report in June by the Majles Research Center, the parliament think-tank. The report said the line of poverty in Tehran had risen from 25 million rial over the past two years.

Labor unions calculate independently a “living basket,” made up of goods required for a basic standard of life, but not including housing and healthcare. The minimum wage for Iranian workers for the current calendar year, beginning on March 21, was set at 18 million rials a month while the “living basket” was put at 49 million rials for a family of four.  

With the depreciation of the rial and high inflation in the past six months, the goods in the “living basket” cost far more than six months ago. According to the ILNA report on October 4, their cost has risen to 68 million ($230 a month).

While the Statistics Center of Iran (SCI) puts the current inflation rate at 35 percent, some economists argue that year-on-year inflation has surpassed 50 percent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects inflation in Iran easing slightly to 33.5% in 2021 from 34.2% this year and 41.1% in 2019.

Others argue all these figures are too optimistic. ILNA on September 2 quoted economist Ehsan Soltani estimating inflation to be at least 60 percent.

Soltani alleged that the rate announced by the SCI was based on data manipulated, by the government. “These figures are not real, they are not even nearly real,” he said.

SCI reported this week that prices for essential foodstuffs jumped more than 100 percent last month compared with a year ago.

Figures for poverty and the cost of living are sensitive due to the link between economic hardships and street protests. In November 2019, security forces killed hundreds after demonstrations were sparked by the overnight tripling of fuel prices.



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