On the Reduction of the Middle Class in Kazakhstan

A change in the social structure is going to be one of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic that will affect Kazakhstan one way or another. In particular, we at KZ.expert believe that the number of the middle class representatives and, therefore, their share in the country’s general population is going to be reduced.

Unfortunately, Kazakhstan currently has no specialised body regularly conducting research on the subject. In Russia, the experts from the Higher School of Economics have estimated that the middle class to which 24% of the working population belonged prior to the pandemic has been reduced by 6,1% or 1.5 p.p. 

Here is a quote from an RBK publication «The HSE Experts Assess the Reduction of the Middle Class in Russia Caused by the Pandemic» (text in bold by KZ.expert).

«Due to the pandemic crisis, 6,1% of the working representatives of the Russian middle class have moved to the category of the poor. This follows from the model calculations the HSE economists have made on the basis of the Rosstat’s data on the personal income sample survey. The reasons lie in the loss of jobs and the reduction of employment income related to the downtime, say the analysts. The expert estimations are presented in the report „Russia in the new epoch: choosing the priorities and the goals of national development“ that RBK has seen».

«The model calculations have shown that, during the period of the pandemic, 8,7% of the middle class representatives had lost their jobs, 3,9% had been in a downtime with their employment income no higher than the monthly minimum wage (12 130 rubles). „For 6,1% of the middle class representatives, it meant that they had been moved to the category of the poor“, say the economists».

We are certain that the COVID-19 pandemic and the limitations of the economic and social activities it’s caused has already led or will lead to the similar results in Kazakhstan. On the other hand, in Kazakhstan, the share of the middle class representatives «thrown» into the category of the poor is a little smaller than in Russia not to mention in the countries with a more complex and developed economies.

Let us not dwell on this subject and especially let us not argue about who belongs to the middle class and who doesn’t. Let us simply present our conclusion: from the political standpoint, the middle class consists of those positioned in-between the wealthy (rich, uber-rich) minority and the poor (very poor, poverty-ridden) majority. At least this is how things are in Kazakhstan.

In view of this, a question arises — what is the middle class (or at least its most active part) going to do under the current uber-complex conditions? We are talking about both those who have managed to retain employment and income and those who have been «thrown» into the «poor» category.

The thing is that the current structure of the Kazakh society closely resembles the one formed in the Russian Empire after the abolition of serfdom: a low percentage of the wealthy (aristocracy, landowners, high-rank and medium-rank officials, a part of the clergy), the overwhelming majority of the poor and, in-between these two groups, those who used to be called «raznochintsy» (intellectuals not belonging to the gentry).   

It was from the raznochintsy, that the major leaders of all kinds of protest movements, from the terrorist to the liberal ones, came a century and a half ago.

And so, we have asked ourselves a question — will the reduction of the middle class representatives and their share in the overall population result in a political mobilisation in Kazakhstan? And if yes, than on what scale?

In our opinion, this is very important in terms of how the internal political developments in Kazakhstan are going to unfold in the next several decades. Because it is already clear that the nationalism in this country is not going to be of a civilised nature which means that nationalist parties and movements that will, sooner or later, appear in Kazakhstan are going to, in the best case scenario, resemble the ones in the Baltic states, or, in the worst case scenario, the Ukrainian ones or those existing in certain countries of former Yugoslavia.

The political parties that are going to represent and protect the interests of the wealthy (rich, uber-rich) will always belong to the leadership (Fuehrer) regardless of how democratic their programs will be. Case in point, the Nur Otan party that has been, is and will remain the party of Nursultan Nazarbayev and, after he passes away, it will be the party of the one who replaces the Elbasy as the head of the authoritarian regime.  

Obviously, the political mobilisation of the middle class representatives is not going to happen today. But it will happen tomorrow or the day after. If only because the part of the middle class that has been thrown into the «poor» class (or will be thrown in there later since the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic difficulties it causes are still going on) is going to try and get back its employment, income and quality of life. And not everyone is likely to manage to do so successfully.   

For instance, according to the data of the HSE experts, «the pandemic has reduced the per capita incomes by 9.7-11.5%» but «thanks to the anti-crisis hand-outs, they have managed to win back 2 p.p. of the income drop», in other words, the losses constitute about 7.7-9.5%.

On the other hand, Kazakhstan’s official statistics estimates that the drop of real monetary incomes of the population was much lower — 2,5% only (August 2020 against August 2019).  

Since this figure is likely to have been underreported, and quite seriously so, and Akorda and the Library are not going to be able to compensate the citizens’ losses as a whole and the losses of the middle class in particular, the authorities are likely to face a new, much more sizeable opponent — the people that used to have a normal or good life but lost it… And their number will be much higher than the number of today’s protestors.


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