Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Russia’s New Poor Ashamed of Their Poverty and Try to Hide It, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 16 – In Russia today, with the gap between rich and poor again widening, Olga Simonova says, “poverty is viewed not as an individual’s misfortune but as his fault.”  As a result, while they complain to pollster, Russia’s new poor do not turn to the state even when it could help them.

            As a result, the Higher School of Economics sociologist says, they “do not give the government the chance to help them,” they drive themselves “into an ever larger dead end,” and the government’s anti-poverty programs even in their reduced size “are ineffective” (ng.ru/economics/2016-08-16/1_poverty.html).

            Simonova’s remarks are reported by Anatoly Komrakov of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” today as part of a broader discussion of increasing income inequality in the Russian Federation and its implications for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid, including ever more negative outcomes as far as their health is concerned.

            He notes that the Academy of Economics and State Service in a report released yesterday says that “one of the factors of increasing income inequality [is] the reduction of the real size of pensions, welfare payments, and pay for workers in education and health care,” all trends driven by Russia’s economic crisis.

            Simonova and her colleagues at the Higher School of Economics, Komrakov continues, point out that this situation has consequences far beyond just belt tightening.  “The greater social inequality, the more sharply felt is the view that it is difficult to do anything to change ones own local social status.”

            And that sense, in turn, the scholars says, leads to the next “link of this chain – to serious stress, depression and the possible development of heart and circulatory diseases.”  (They don’t mention alcoholism but that too is a likely outcome of such depression, other studies and simple logic suggest.)

            Komrakov points out that “poverty has become a new mass phenomenon in contemporary Russia,” thus creating a situation in which “the majority of citizens, especially those who grew up with the ideals of equality and brotherhood propagandized in the USSR, find it difficult to adapt to the new realities.”

            But the journalist points out that if the new poor are ashamed of turning to the government, they are largely unconstrained as far as complaining to pollsters.  The Levada Center, he notes, recently found that “two thirds” of Russians feel “tension between the rich and the poor, with 41 percent saying that it is “’very strong.’”

            Some politicians, like the leaders of Just Russia and the LDPR, have played up on this theme during the Duma electoral campaign. But the ruling United Russia and the KPRF have not, in the first instance so as not to call attention to the problems in the economy and in the second apparently so as not to make problems for itself with the first.

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