top of page

ANALYSIS: HOW KAZAKHSTANIS LIVE

“The general population lives in poverty.” Such an opinion is widely held and news in favour of it are widespread: “Kazakhstanis spend half of their money on food”, “the population’s monthly income is 80 thousand”, “142 thousand is enough to be wealthy”.


There is a widespread belief that the authorities should be informed of this as frequently as possible. According to legend, shame will overpower the officials, and they will start working for the betterment of the people. However, due to the nature of the apparatus, everything happens precisely the opposite way. Populist politicians are gaining popularity by urging people to “take everything and share it”. And bureaucrats employ “aikido,” using criticism directed at themselves as a justification for obtaining additional powers and budgets, as well as creating new programmes and projects.


Solutions depend on the problem statement. All this would be partly justified if it were true. It reminds one of an old joke: “98% of Kazakhstanis are satisfied with their lives; The survey was conducted at the KazMunayGas office”. These figures represent various segments of the population, but not the entire population. Surveys, particularly paid ones, are done primarily among the poor; the wealthy simply decline to participate. Salary data is consistently collected only from big corporations and government agencies; small businesses rarely disclose, and not all of them do.


The statistics agency is not to blame – it always discloses how the data was gathered. The issue is that professional users do not read the disclosure notice, only perform a cursory analysis, and then distribute it to the media. Not least is the cognitive distortion known as “confirmation bias,” which refers to the propensity to interpret information in ways that are consistent with original beliefs. Furthermore, negative news is simpler to “sell” to the general public.


Can one see the full picture? Yes, if you piece the entire puzzle together. Everything in the economy is interconnected; if something is sold, someone is purchasing. Income comes from a variety of sources, including company and government reporting, taxes, social benefits, surveys, and a rise in savings at financial organisations. Similarly, in terms of expenditures, the same surveys were used – business sales, imports, and so on. All of this is aggregated by the statistics agency, which informs the GDP and everything connected to it.


Let’s immediately define the disclaimers:

  • The numbers are not exact, but they are the only ones available. Part of the picture is calculated by the statistics agency indirectly – do not forget about the high level of the “shadow economy” in the country. It’s hard to double check such data.

  • In addition to the total figures in trillions, we show the average per capita per month. It is difficult for people to perceive numbers that they do not encounter in everyday life.

  • The mean is not equal to the median. If 3 people get 100, 200, and 600, then the median will be 200, and the average will be 300. Many people often take the “average” quite literally, as the middle place in a certain chain of people.

  • We consider only adults (15+ years old) as children do not earn income and do not participate in determining expenses. For the same reason, Kazakhstan cannot be compared with others in this way – we have a different demographic situation (more children).

With this in mind, the following picture emerges for 2021. Such statistics are formed with a large time lag. For 2022, it can be multiplied by a conditional 20%, although the real situation has not changed due to inflation.


1) To begin with, let’s fix the maximum – GDP. This is practically the only source of income for Kazakhstanis. In 2021, it was equal to 84 trillion KZT or 517 thousand KZT per average adult citizen per month.


This is the “ceiling”, from which it follows that right now all adult citizens cannot earn more than 1.2 thousand USD (“like Arabs”).


2) The average monthly cash income of adults was 185 thousand KZT. In total, this is 30.1 trillion KZT or 36% of GDP per year. According to our calculations, this may include:

  • “Clean” salaries “in the pocket” ≈ 10.7 trillion.

  • All kinds of deductions from above to wages ≈ 3 trillion.

  • Salaries in an “envelope” ≈ 3.4 trillion.

  • Social benefits – 7.2 trillion.

  • Mixed income from entrepreneurship (Individual entrepreneurship, etc.)4.8 trillion.

  • Other – 0.9 trillion.

If we count only employed persons, then the average “clean” salary was 166 thousand. But in the statistics, after all, another figure is given – 250 thousand. Why the discrepancy? 250 is (a) excluding mass small businesses (incl. individual entrepreneurs) and civil law contracts, (b) before payment of individual income tax and pensions, (c) taking into account non-monetary incentives, (d) according to actual hours, when 2 employees for half a day are combined into one “complete” employee.


Deductions – this is the employee’s income that he or she got less of. The employer doesn’t care who gets paid, him or her or the state; these are just expenditures. This is an additional 28% of the pay, or 213 thousand KZT.


People, on the other hand, think in the category of monthly salaries received “in the pocket”, without taking into account any bonuses and health benefits. It turns out to be 100-150 thousand only, especially if they work in small organisations.


3) In addition to cash wages, citizens receive salaries in kind. These non-monetary incomes are equal to 59 thousand KZT per adult, or 9.7 trillion KZT.


They arise when an organisation rents a place to live or a car for an employee, organises subsidised meals, sports memberships, free kindergarten for children, donates its own products or services, such as free coal for miners or medical treatment for medical staff.

But there is a suspicion that a significant part of this amount is the potential profit of business owners, which is not withdrawn in the form of dividends. The reason is taxes, which can reach up to 40%. Therefore, the owners and, in part, the management put all their personal expenses on the organisation.


! Thus, the total income of one average adult Kazakhstani citizen per month was 245 thousand KZT. That is 39.7 trillion KZT or 47% of GDP per year.


It is so established that conditional income from cost savings is also added to this. If a person lives in their own accommodation, then this is considered as renting from him/herself at a certain price. If a person grows agricultural products and consumes them, then the logic is the same. It looks odd, but accounting is necessary, as it significantly affects the assessment of the well-being of most citizens.


! With this in mind, the final figure is 272 thousand per average Kazakhstani, 44.2 trillion in total or 53% of GDP.


4) In terms of expenses, a tangible monetary item is taxes and social security contributions. This is 6.3 trillion KZT or a fifth of cash income.


But “in return” the population receives social transfers in kind from the state and non-profit sector in the amount of 6.1 trillion. These are goods and services from public and non-profit organisations provided to citizens free of charge or at prices far below market rates. These include, for example, education and health services, social assistance, all kinds of subsidies for housing and communal services, food cards and much more.


Another 1.5 trillion are various other cash expenses.


5) Actual final consumptionthe benefits that people received – is equal to 298 thousand per month, 48.4 trillion in total, or 58% of GDP.


42% of this is in-kind, in the form of wages, social benefits or conditional living. 12% - supposedly at the expense of debt, but this is another “white” spot, since the amounts do not compete with the statistics of the National Bank. 46% - at the expense of their own money.


Conclusions:

A) When comparing different kinds of financial burdens on a person (spending on food, debt load, etc.), it is more correct to take into account all sources of income and expenses. One should be especially careful with the survey data if there are doubts about quality control. It is also worth pointing out in the news that these are “some Kazakhstanis” and “in some organisations”.


All this immediately reduces the severity of many messages and casts doubt on many government policies, for example, on price regulation or import substitution.

For example, 1.5 trillion KZT of overdue loans turn into 6.5% of all monetary incomes of the population. Food expenditures will amount to 28% of cash income or 17% of actual consumption.


B) People think in terms of what comes monthly to a bank card. The problem is that they receive 2-2.5 times more benefits, but the decisions are made by others. The state collects taxes and quasi-taxes in order to later return them in the form of goods and services of dubious quality. Managers in organisations come up with various “non-monetary incentives” that de facto allow to reduce CIT and not pay for payroll. Efficiency of spending is reduced, corruption risks are increasing.


There seems to be consumption in such a way, but there is no freedom of choice.


C) The other side of the coin is the reduction of inequality. It is present in incomes and is hard to see due to averaging. An important remark – this has not yet taken into account the monetary income of citizens that were earned from business profits and transferred abroad to controlled legal entities. This would make the inequality sharper.


However, there are 2 points that are not taken into account when assessing inequality.


First, it is not income that matters, but benefits. Still, the benefits of in-kind wages are received by employees of enterprises, and not by owners. The state also redistributes more than 10 trillion KZT from the wealthy to the poor. For example, the main beneficiaries of the education and health systems are the vulnerable.


Second, the picture of internal redistribution of income among the population itself is not visible. We suspect that cultural characteristics oblige to send part of the income in cash along the kinship lines (parents, spouses, children, and others).


D) From generalisations and “carpet bombing” by state regulation and sectoral politicians, it is necessary to move on to targeted social support for the really poor. And preferably in cash, without complications.


Some segments of the population do indeed spend half of their money on food. But this is a completely different “half” – from 16 thousand KZT per month among the poorest to 72 thousand for the middle class. After all, food and drinks come in completely different quality and price segments.


Much depends on the level of income, the number of dependents and the availability of housing.


It’s a problem when a mother with two children earns less than 100-150 thousand. It’s a problem when people with disabilities or pensioners earn less than 60-80 thousand. It’s a problem when large families have only one parent that works at a job with a salary of 200-300 thousand, and without housing – even 400-500 thousand.


Half of the income for food can be spent by the urban youth or urban families with 1-2 children. But this food is on the verge of entertainment when they include not only essential goods. Other needs are met.


E) One cannot compare Kazakhstan with the oil-producing Arab countries or the developed world. Even taking into account all the raw materials and corporations, there are limits to the growth of citizens’ incomes to a comparable standard of living.


This means that it is too early for Kazakhstan to turn into a nationalised social country. More economic freedom for the private sector, as well as a government emphasis on the rule of law, strategic infrastructure, and targeted social policies, are required.

Comments


bottom of page