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Study: 1/3 of Russians in Poverty

July 30, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ More than one in three Russians is living below the official poverty line, according to government figures released Friday, the latest sign of the wreckage left by last year’s economic meltdown.

About 35 percent of the population, or 51.7 million people, received monthly salaries below Russia’s minimum subsistence level of 872 rubles ($36) during the first half of the year, the Russian Statistics Agency said.

That figure was up from 22 percent living in poverty during the same period last year, when the minimum monthly subsistence level averaged out to about 429 rubles ($71 at the time).

Some economists say the figure overstates the poverty problem somewhat because many Russians make money in the economy’s informal sector and don’t declare their income to the government.

Still, the figures reflect the dramatic decline in living standards that has been taking place throughout this decade.

The financial crash last August resulted in widespread job layoffs and pay cuts, sent inflation soaring, and pushed millions more into poverty.

In more fallout from the crisis, imports crashed by 46 percent in the first six months of 1999, while exports fell by 11 percent, the agency said.

After the ruble devaluation, many imports became prohibitively expensive for Russians. The agency didn’t give exact foreign-trade volumes, but monthly figures show exports totaled $34.4 billion against imports of $19.6 billion, for a trade surplus at around $14.8 billion for the first half of the year. Russia’s trade surplus was just $900 million from January to June of 1998.

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