In recent years, despite considerable spending on the fight against poverty, the proportion of people defined as ‘poor’ in the Russian population has halted its decline, and instead, a segment of permanently poor people has emerged, including not only low-income pensioners and persons with disabilities, but also the working poor.
Slobodenyuk conducted a study to find out who has fallen into poverty and how this has occurred in Russia since the 2000s, what the difference is between the permanent poor and the temporary poor, what categories of Russians are at high risk of becoming permanently poor, how poverty has changed with time, and what are the main factors driving someone into poverty and lifting them out of it. She presented her findings in the paper 'Social Dynamics in the Group of the Russian Poor' and in her Ph.D. thesis 'The Poor in Contemporary Russia: Composition and Social Dynamics'.
The empirical analysis was based on data from the 2005-2011 Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS). Slobodenyuk used two types of samples in her study: representative samples for quantitative estimates of the scale of groups and trends, and full samples for a more detailed study and analysis of the changes in poor people's status and the underlying factors.
According to Slobodenyuk, poverty in Russia is a widespread phenomenon. In recent years, the majority of Russians have at least temporarily experienced poverty. Only about a quarter (24.2%) of Russians did not live in poverty at any time during the seven years of observation, while almost 60% spent two or more years in poverty.
In addition to this, 40% of the Russian poor are chronically poor, i.e. they have lived in poverty for a number of years without any visible signs of improvement; 34% of the poor are slightly better off – even though they, too, experience chronic poverty, their situation may from time to time change for the better, i.e. at times they may dip below the poverty line, but then rise above it. And finally, poverty is a temporary state caused by certain circumstances for a quarter of all Russia's poor.
«Four to five years in poverty can trigger irreversible mechanisms dragging people further into persistent, hopeless poverty,» Slobodenyuk warns. In particular, people's social circle and lifestyle may change. «For example, consumer durables and clothes wear out and become obsolete with time, savings get spent, liquid assets are sold, while the possibility of borrowing from others becomes limited, and one's cultural capital is affected by staying for years in a different social environment, among other things,» the researchers notes.
Poverty in Russia is not limited to marginalized, unemployed, and idle people. Slobodenyuk makes a distinction between the 'low-income poor' and the 'deprived poor', i.e. those who are driven into poverty by life circumstances – e.g. someone who has a paying job, but suffers from health problems and rents an apartment may be spending all of his or her income on medications and rent.
Two-thirds of Russians were 'low-income poor' and about half of Russians 'deprived poor' at least once in the the seven-year period of observation.
According to Slobodenyuk, single pensioners are particularly at risk. «They may even have incomes higher than the subsistence minimum, making them ineligible for government's assistance,» she explains. «But if they have health problems, their income may not compensate for the additional cost of treatment, driving them into chronic poverty due to deprivation.»
Major risk factors for poverty include one's place of residence, household composition, health status, being able-bodied and unemployed, and the level of pay if employed.
For example, rural youth are a highly vulnerable category, and 95% of them have been 'low-income poor' and 60% have been 'deprived poor' at least once between 2005 and 2011. «The risk of poverty for rural youth is not just high, but extremely high, since 70% of them ended up being trapped in low-income poverty for more than four years,» Slobodenyuk stresses.
Families with many children are another category at particular risk from poverty. In contrast, childless households rarely dip below the poverty line. «Just 10% of households with two children avoid low-income poverty, while more than half of such families fall into chronic poverty,» according to Slobodenyuk. «The risk is even higher for households with three children, of which more than 80% fall into chronic poverty.»
Getting out of poverty in today's Russia rarely involves extra effort by the state, individual, or household. Instead, the single most common factor is a spontaneous resolution of the underlying cause that led to the poverty in the first place.