Last Friday in his weekly radio address, President Boris Yeltsin lauded the emergence of a middle class in Russia, noting that 16 million people had traveled abroad in 1997 and that Russia’s 850,000 small businesses employ about 10 percent of the work force. (Russian and Western agencies, February 27)
However, examination of reported income data suggests that the notion of a Russian middle class is more a psychological than an economic reality. A poll conducted by Validata for the US Information Agency asked respondents to define what they understood by a middle class income. Responses ranged from $200 to $10,000 a month, yet average reported per capita income in January was a mere 916 rubles ($160). Only 19 percent of the population have a family income of $170 to $300 a month, and a mere 1 percent of families take in more than $700 a month. With consumer durables priced at or above world market levels, it seems clear that a middle class lifestyle in Russia is enjoyed only by a privileged minority. (Segodnya, February 28, Russky telegraf, February 27)
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