- WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) - Nearly three out of every four Russians now grow
some or all of their own food, a measure of the ways in which they are
attempting to cope with their ever-increasing impoverishment.
- That figure, one that gives a face to
Russian poverty, comes from a U.S. Information Agency-sponsored survey
of more than 2,000 residents of the Russian Federation.
- Conducted in September-October 1998 and
released last month, this poll not only helps to answer "just how
bad" poverty in Russia now is but equally importantly undercuts some
assumptions about how Russians are dealing with their economic difficulties.
- The poll's findings about subsistence
farming are perhaps the most striking. More than half of all Russians
-- some 55 percent -- currently grow approximately half or more of their
food in private gardens, at their dachas, or on other plots of land.
- Only 27 percent, the poll found, do not
grow any of the food they consume -- and that in a country whose population
remains more than 70 percent urban.
- But that is just one of the ways Russians
are trying to cope at a time when only 50 percent of Russian adults are
employed, and only one in four of those who are employed are being paid
on a more or less regular basis.
- Not surprisingly, many Russians are turning
to family and friends. Some 57 percent of those polled had borrowed money
and another 52 percent had accepted assistance of one kind or another from
family or friends in the six months prior to the poll.
- But most expressed fear that this source
may be drying up. Fewer than 40 percent said they assumed they could count
on this source of alternative income if times become even worse.
- Russians are not turning to two potential
sources of income that many have assumed they are using to keep afloat.
- As the USIA report notes, "contrary
to popular accounts, the substitution of barter for wares overall is not
that prevalent." And workers not paid on time are not making money
"in a flourishing second economy."
- With regard to barter, the survey found
that in the six months prior to the poll only 27 percent of those working
had received goods in lieu of wages and that in half of these cases, that
was a one or only two-time event.
- And the survey found such wage substitutes
are doing little to help those not being paid on a regular basis. Some
35 percent of workers who have not been paid or paid more than a month
late "never receive payment in kind," the report said.
- With regard to the question of second
jobs, the USIA survey failed to find much evidence that Russians are using
second jobs to supplement their incomes.
- While some may have underreported their
participation in such jobs owing to concerns about taxation, 82 percent
said they do not have a second job. Only 10 percent said they have a regular
second job, and only 6 percent indicated they sometimes do.
- Moreover, most of these jobs provide
relatively little income. Forty-three percent of those with such jobs
say it provides them with less than 25 percent of their income; only 16
percent say that it provides more than half.
- Given the assumptions many have made
about the role of the second economy in Russia, the USIA survey intriguingly
found that those not paid regularly are no more likely to have a second
position than those who are paid on time.
- That lack of individual entrepreneurism
in much of the Russian labor force was reflected in one other finding
of the USIA-sponsored poll. It found that large majorities of working
Russians were unwilling to leave their current jobs even if they are not
being paid on a regular basis. Most believe that it would be difficult
if not impossible to find an equivalent position quickly, if at all.
- And all are aware that the government
is unlikely to provide them with any unemployment benefits in the interim.
Indeed, two out of three unemployed Russians today have never received
any such benefits.
- Given such concerns and difficulties,
Russians are turning toward subsistence, an obvious survival strategy and
one that represents an unspoken call for help from the outside. ( (c)