By Shakeh Avoyan
The government reported on Wednesday a further reduction in poverty in Armenia, with a senior official saying that it affected only one in four Armenians as of late last year.
Stepan Mnatsakanian, head of the National Statistical Service (NSS), cited the figure as he presented the findings of the most recent household income and expenditure survey conducted by the government agency in 2007. He said the proportion of the country’s population living below the official poverty line was found to have dropped to 25 percent from the 2006 level of 26.5 percent.
“The problem of poverty is still serious in Armenia,” Mnatsakanian told RFE/RL. “Some 800,000 people remain poor.”
The government maintains that poverty has declined in recent years far more rapidly than it had anticipated because of robust economic growth and increased government spending on social programs. Under a Western-backed program to tackle the problem which it launched in 2001, the official poverty rate was due to drop to 26.5 percent only by 2012.
The government said last January it will revise the program in a way that will commit it to further cutting the proportion to 12 percent in 2012 and 9 percent in 2015. Government officials asked Armenian non-governmental organizations dealing with socioeconomic problems to weigh in on the new targets and ways of meeting them.
Some NGO representatives have long questioned the government’s methodology of gauging the scale of property. They believe that the official poverty threshold of about 23, 000 drams ($76) per person is set too low and does not reflect the increased cost of life in Armenia. The country’s average monthly wage currently stands at about 90,000 drams.
Mnatsakanian stood by the credibility of the poverty data. In fact, he said, fewer Armenians consider themselves poor than is shown by official statistics.