Monday, March 19, 2018

Russia’s Mid-Sized Cities Aging Rapidly, Creating Problems Beyond Their Ability to Cope

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 17 – The decay of industries in the mid-sized cities of Russia, a group often ignored between the megalopolises and the villages, is accelerating, the result of the flight of young people and the inability of such places to attract or hold migrants from the Russian countryside or abroad.

            One such city is Naberezhny Chelny, briefly Brezhnev, in the Republic of Tatrstan and the rapid aging of its population as a result is placing burdens on it that are beyond the capacity of officials to cope and that thus threaten its survival as an urban center in the future (

            Over the last seven years, the number of pensioners there has risen by 30 thousand, while the number of newborns has stagnated or even fallen. And the industrial city like others of its kind, local analyst Elena Mashkova says, has not been able to retain working age people or attract migrants from rural areas or abroad.

            Of those leaving, she says, young people are not the most numerous. Instead, the departees are dominated by people aged 35 to 45 with children who are worried about college for them given that Naberezhny Chelny does not have its own university and by self-described entrepreneurs who can’t get a start there.

            Farid Basharov, the head of the city’s Trade and Industry Chamber, says that much of what is going on reflects older trends: those who came to work at KAMAZ 30 and 40 years ago are either pensioners or not among the living.  If it weren’t for the outmigration and failure to attract new immigrants, he says, the age group balance would have remained much the same.

            “Somewhat more than 70 percent of the graduates” of the city’s schools choose to go elsewhere for work. There are too few jobs for them to choose from, but more than that, the city fails to provide cultural amenities young people now expect, Basharov says, especially because it lacks a university.

            According to Natalya Zubarevich, a regional economist in Moscow, “people go mostly to regional capitals or further, directly to Moscow” rather than to cities like Naberezhny Chelny or Toliatti. As a result, she says, “many industrial cities are losing population as a result of migration … the population is aging and migration is not keeping it young.”

            In this situation, however, the city government has failed to do much for older people because it continues to think of itself as a “young” urban place.  It isn’t, and there needs to be more money spend and attention given to the problems of older people including accessibility, entertainment, and health care. 

            At present, however, officials in the city, the republic and Moscow seem more concerned about “the burden” young and old place on the working age population.  According to statistics, Naberezhny Chelny is getting worse in this respect: In 2014, there were 631 non-workers for every 1,000 residents. Now, there are 751, an increase of almost 20 percent in only four years.

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