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Rich and poor

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:50:00 06/18/2010

Filed Under: Economic Indicators

IF ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS WOULD ONLY bother to see how our Asian neighbors are doing, it might be less effusive in touting President Macapagal-Arroyo?s economic achievements or legacy. For example, a recent report published in the New Straits Times said that in 2009 the number of millionaires in Singapore grew by 35 percent, while those in Malaysia grew by 34 percent. The Boston Consulting Group, which conducted the study, said 11.4 percent of Singaporean households owned more than US$1 million in ?investible assets,? a measure of wealth that excludes real property and other non-liquid assets like paintings. That comes up to about 93,000 millionaires in a nation of 4.7 million people. The study also found that 60 percent of households in the island nation had bankable assets worth between US$250,000 and $1 million. And what made this all the more astonishing is that it happened during the same year when the country?s gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 2.1 percent.

And how did Filipino families fare during the ?36 quarters of uninterrupted growth? under the Arroyo administration? There are no comparable figures for the Philippines. But recent computations made by the National Statistical and Coordination Board give us an idea of how we compare with our more progressive neighbor. The computations based on the Family Income and Expenditure Surveys indicate that while the rich may have become richer, their ranks have become thinner. The ?rich? here are defined as families with monthly incomes of at least P199,927 or P2,393,126 a year. The average monthly income of families classified as rich today amounts to P235,155, compared to P194,965 in 2006. Romulo Virola, the NSCB secretary general who recently gloated about a ?glorious ending? for the Arroyo administration after surprising 7.3 percent in GDP growth during the first quarter, said that in 2006 there were 19,738 rich families (out of an estimated 17.4 million families), less than half the number in 2000 when 51,160 families were classified as rich.

Virola said the decline in the number of rich families ?would not have been so bad? if the middle class had expanded at the same time. It did not. As a proportion of all families, those belonging to the middle class (families earning an average of P36,964 monthly today) also declined to 19.1 percent in 2006 from 22.7 percent in 2000. Thus over the same period, i.e., from 2000 to 2006, the proportion of low-income families increased to 80.8 percent from 77 percent. These are families that earn an average of P9,061 a month in 2010.

(Curiously, while the NSCB gives the estimated 2010 incomes for each category?rich, middle class and low-income?it does not have both the absolute number of families in each category or their proportion to the total number of families for the current year.)

If the rich and the not-so-rich have declined in number (or at least as a percentage of the total number of families), where did the fruits of the years of growth go? To the poor obviously, though still not enough to significantly improve their standard of living. The average monthly income of the low-income families has grown to P9,061 in 2010 from P5,766 in 2000, but their monthly expenditures have kept pace, growing to P8,345 from P5,186. While it looks as if some improvement has been made, it is at best marginal. Survey after survey shows more and more people rating themselves poor or complaining of hunger.

At this point it would be futile to even dream of catching up with our more progressive neighbors. But in the end, it matters little how few millionaires we have. What matters most is how many millions of poor we have among us. Cutting their number should be the first priority of government and society.

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