What is the magnitude of poverty in Iran? It’s an important question, but since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there has been no reliable and comprehensive statistics to allow for objective answers, and for the most part, knowledge about the situation has been shaped by conjecture and anecdotes. But in early December 2018, the Iranian parliament’s Research Center published a pioneering and comprehensive report on absolute poverty in the 31 provinces of Iran [Persian link] for the Iranian calendar year of 1395 (March 20, 2016-March 20, 2017).
The figures give considerable cause for concern.
A report published by the United Nations in 1995 defines absolute poverty as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to social services.”
The World Bank has established a more quantitative standard. It sets the poverty line at a daily income of US$1.9 at 2010 prices. This translates to more than US$2 in 2016 prices, or more than US$600 per month.
In 2016, US$1 was worth 3,500 Iranian tomans, so the poverty line in Iran stood at around 2.1 million tomans per month. This number varied in different localities after being adjusted for purchasing power.
For information about the concepts, methods, and statistical data IranWire used to arrive at a general picture of poverty in Iran at a national level, read the introduction to the series.
This article explores poverty in the province of Golestan.
Source: Statistical Center of Iran
The Poorest Province in Northern Iran
Despite its highly hospitable culture, Golestan is several times poorer than other Caspian Sea littoral provinces in northern Iran.
Poverty rates in Gilan and Mazandaran, the other two provinces in the north, are lower than the national average, while Golestan is the fourth poorest province in Iran.
One in three residents of Golestan (35 percent) lives below the absolute poverty line. This equates to 650,000 people, or 180,000 families.
The rate of unemployment in Golestan is 12.3 percent, according to the latest figures from 2018. This is slightly higher than the national average.
However, only 37.1 percent of working-age residents have jobs, and 17 percent of those who are employed do not work full-time.
In addition, the inflation rate in Golestan province was higher than the national average in November 2018, according to the Statistical Center of Iran. In that month, inflation was 51 percent higher than it had been two years earlier.
While nationwide food prices rose an average of 68 percent in that period, in Golestan they rose by 75 percent. This is despite the fact the province has some of the richest agricultural land in Iran.
Province of Golestan (Source: Google Maps)
Golestan has the second lowest percentage of urban dwellers in Iran (53 percent), after the province of Sistan and Baluchistan. However, two in five of these residents, or 400,000 people, live below the absolute poverty line.
In 2016, the urban poverty line for Golestan was around 411,000 tomans (US$99), according to the Iranian Parliament Research Center. For a household, it was 1.11 million tomans (US$264).
Adjusted for the 50 percent inflation rate, the urban poverty line in 2018 was 1.7 million tomans (US$405) for a family of four. This was at least 500,000 tomans (US$119) more than the minimum wage.
Poverty in rural Golestan is less extreme than in the province’s towns and cities. This is not because the villages are flourishing, but because their cost of living — especially housing — is lower.
In 2016, the poverty line in rural Golestan was around 234,000 tomans (US$56) per person and 631,000 tomans (US$150) per family.
Of the 870,000 villagers in Golestan, 235,000 (27 percent) lived under the poverty line in 2016, according to the Iranian Parliament Research Center.
Adjusted for the 50 percent inflation rate, in 2018 the poverty threshold rose to around 356,000 tomans (US$85) for one person and 960,000 tomans (US$229) for a household.
Read the full Poverty in Iran series:
Revealed: Absolute Poverty in Iran, December 7, 2018
Could a 20% Salary Increase Help State Employees?, December 5, 2018
Iran Rushing Toward 30 Percent Inflation, November 27, 2018
Iran’s Economy Is Stagnating Even Before New US Sanctions Hit, October 30, 2018
Runaway Inflation and the Nationwide Trucker Strike, October 4, 2018
Families and Fishermen Lose Out as Prices Rise, October 1, 2018
Living on the Margins in Iran: Bandar Abbas and Hormozgan Province, August 24, 2018
Living on the Margins in Iran: An Introduction, July 11, 2018