Poverty in Armenia continued to fall last year after reaching in 2017 the lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to government data.
In its latest report on living standards in the country, the government’s Statistical Committee said 23.5 percent of Armenians lived below the official poverty line in 2018, down from 25.7 percent in 2017. The line is set at 42,621 drams per month ($89).
As much as 53.5 percent of the country’s population was officially considered poor in 2004. Poverty fell significantly in the following years amid double-digit economic growth that came to an end with the onset of the global financial crisis in late 2008. It soared to almost 36 percent in 2010, one year after Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product shrunk by over 14 percent.
The Armenian economy grew slowly in the next few years, translating into modest annual increases in personal incomes. The official poverty rate fell by 3.7 percentage points, to 25.7 percent, as GDP growth sharply accelerated to 7.5 percent in 2017. It was the lowest rate reported by the Statistical Committee since 1992.
Mane Tandilian, an opposition parliamentarian who served as Armenia’s labor and social security minister in May-November 2018, described the latest poverty figure as credible when she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service at the weekend.
“Regardless of whether or not we trust the methodology [of measuring poverty], that methodology remains the same,” she said. “That means there was a change [in poverty levels] here.”
Echoing statements by government officials, Tandilian said continued growth and job creation are essential for getting more people out of poverty. But she also stressed the importance of efficient social spending by the Armenian government.
Government expenditures on social programs are due to rise by 10 percent, to 489 billion drams (just over $1 billion), in 2020. The government is planning to raise pensions by 10 percent. Also, it initiated recently a 23 percent increase in the national minimum wage, which will take effect in January.
According to the Statistical Committee, economic growth slowed to 5.2 percent in 2018 but is on track to reach 7 percent this year, suggesting that poverty in Armenia is continuing to decrease.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian declared last week that Armenia is now the fastest-growing economy in the former Soviet Union. “In 2019 we managed to surpass Georgia in terms of GDP per capita,” he said in the parliament. “More importantly, based on the [macroeconomic] results of 2020 we will also pull ahead of Azerbaijan.”