By Atom Markarian
The government made public on Tuesday the results of its latest household survey showing a further decline in poverty which officials said now affects just over one third of Armenia's population.
According to the National Statistical Service (NSS), 34.6 percent of Armenians lived below the official poverty line of 19,700 drams ($44) per person as of the beginning of last year -- down from 56 percent registered in 1999 and 43 percent in 2003. The government agency said the rate of extreme poverty declined from 21 percent to just 6.4 percent during the six-year period.
The NSS calculates the poverty rates on the basis of its regular comprehensive surveys of household incomes and expenditures that are financed by the World Bank. The most recent of them was conducted from April 2004 through March 2005 among some 6,800 randomly chosen families across Armenia. Only 20 percent of them described themselves as poor or extremely poor, according to pollsters.
“Poverty has become more superficial and less acute,” the NSS said in a statement. But it cautioned that poverty is still a “serious problem” for Armenia.
NSS officials said the research followed World Bank methodology that uses consumption expenditures, as opposed to income, for gauging living standards. Not surprisingly, its findings were endorsed by a senior World Bank economist who attended the official presentation of the latest socioeconomic data. Alexandra Posarak said the reported improvement is the result of Armenia’s strong macroeconomic performance that has repeatedly drawn praise from the bank and other Western donors.
“There have been positive changes in net employment, and wages and social transfers have increased,” she said. “And so has the consumption together with the growing remittances from Armenians working abroad.”
Official statistics show the Armenian economy expanding by almost 14 percent in 2005, its fifth consecutive year of double-digit growth. The government insists that the growth has already benefited the vast majority of Armenians.
However, its impact on number one socioeconomic problem, unemployment, seems to have been rather limited so far. A similar nationwide survey conducted by a Yerevan-based non-governmental organization last year suggests that a staggering 30 percent of the country’s economically active population remains jobless.