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Census Brief: Russia's New Problem — Poverty

Report Number CENBR/98-5

Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, that country’s economic and social system worked in a practical sense — meaning most people had a place to live and food to eat. Although standards of living were below those in the West, particularly in housing, daily life was predictable. The Soviet leadership was legitimately able to say that their form of socialism had succeeded in virtually eliminating the kind of poverty that existed in Czarist Russia.

Russian citizens now live in different times. The country’s transformation to a more open economic system has created, temporarily at least, a large, new group of people in poverty.

In this Census Brief, measurement of poverty in Russia is based on identifying households with incomes below 50 percent of the median, adjusted for household size and composition. The definition of poverty in Russia has been the subject of considerable debate and, for obvious reasons, does not include unofficial, or black market, income.1

1 Setting a poverty threshold at a percentage of median income is known as a relative poverty threshold. The United States uses an absolute poverty threshold, originally set in the 1960s at roughly three times the cost of a minimally adequate diet, and updated annually since then using the Consumer Price Index.


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