Staunton, May 11 – Vladimir Putin’s directive to the Russian government to dramatically increase over the next six years both life expectancy and the number of births, neither of which is achievable without the kind of investment unlikely to be forthcoming, have had the effect of refocusing Russian public attention of the country’s demographic problems.
They are both numerous and large, with some well-known like the shifting ethnic balance and the decline in overall population figures but with many others less obvious but with potentially equally serious consequences. Despite this having been a holiday week, three of these received more attention that has typically been the case.
First, Putin’s call to cut the number of poor in Russian by 50 percent may be far harder than he thinks. According to a new study by scholars a the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, the number of poor is almost twice the figure that Rosstat gives (social.ranepa.ru/novosti/item/issledovanie-ranhigs-podhody-k-socialnoj-podderzhke-v-usloviyah-mnogokriterialnogo-opredeleniya-bednosti).
According to the state statistical agency, about 13 percent of Russians – some 20 million people – are poor; but according to the Russian Academy, the actual figures are 25 percent and 36 million, nearly twice as many. Consequently, if Putin’s goals were achieved, it would only mean that the real number of poor Russians would equal the number Moscow now gives out.
But these figures on poverty carry with them additional bad news as far as the country’s demographic future is concerned. They show that households with children are more likely to be poor than are those without and that the more children in the household, the greater its probability of being poor.
That means Putin faces a Hobson’s choice: if he pushes to eliminate poverty, he almost certainly will drive down the fertility rate of Russian women and hence the possibility of stabilizing the population; but if he decides to try to boost family size, given Russia’s current social support system, he will almost certainly increase the number of Russian poor.
Second, like other countries in the industrialized world, Russia faces a cadres crisis, somewhat later than those in Western Europe but somewhat sooner than those elsewhere. That is, Russia soon won’t have enough people to fill key jobs in health care, education, scholarship and so on (ridus.ru/news/276070
Their absence too is a drag on the Russian economy, scholars say. In principle, some of them could be attracted back by higher wages or interesting career possibilities. But some will return, according to new research, only if the political system in Russia becomes more open and less repressive.
While moving in that direction would help Putin toward the achievement of his goals, it is probably the single direction one can say with near certainty that he is unlikely to choose to pursue.