Poverty in Iran: Semnan

March 3, 2020
Ali Ranjipour
5 min read
The province of Semnan has the second lowest unemployment in Iran but, paradoxically, it is the sixth poorest province in the country
The province of Semnan has the second lowest unemployment in Iran but, paradoxically, it is the sixth poorest province in the country

What is the magnitude of poverty in Iran? It’s an important question, but until now there have been no reliable and comprehensive statistics to allow for adequately objective answers beyond 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.


In recent days, the province of Semnan, along with the provinces of Mazandaran, Golestan, North Khorasan, Kermanshah and Fars, has been badly hit by rainstorms and flash floods. At least 19 people in Shiraz, the capital city of Fars, have lost their lives, and many villages across the region have been damaged. Forecasts indicate that the weather is set to improve in the next 24 hours, which will hopefully reduce further hardship to the people who live in these provinces, and pose a lesser risk to the facilities they need.

Absolute Poverty

Objective answers for the rate of poverty, however, need measurable criteria. What is poverty or, to be more exact, “absolute” or “extreme” poverty?

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. 

Here IranWire explores poverty in the northern province of Semnan, mountainous in the north and arid desert in the south.



Poverty in the Birthplace of Presidents

The most recent presidents of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani, were both born and raised in Semnan. However, the honor of being the birthplace of presidents does not seem to have helped the deplorable rate of poverty in this province.

According to the parliament’s Research Center, Semnan is the sixth poorest province in Iran, where more than 41,000 households, or a population of around 160,000, live under the absolute poverty line and are unable to afford the most basic necessities, including enough food to avoid starvation and malnutrition.


Despite this, according to the latest employment numbers by the Statistical Center of Iran, in 2017 unemployment in Semnan ranked the lowest among Iranian provinces after Markazi province [Persian PDF]. Although the participation rate — the sum of all employed workers divided by the working age population — is rather low, the ratio of employment is higher than the national average. This means that there are other factors besides unemployment, such as the low income of people who do have jobs, that make Semnan one of the poorest provinces in the country.


Semnan Province (Source: Google Maps)


Urban Poverty

Semnan has a dry climate and, therefore, not much agriculture. As a result, 80 percent of its population is concentrated in the cities, as is 92 percent of the poor, who mostly live on the margins of the cities or in decayed urban areas. The number of poor urban dwellers is around 150,000, meaning that one-fourth of Semnan’s urban inhabitants live beneath the poverty line.

In 2016, Semnan’s urban poverty line was 410,000 tomans ($98) for one person and 1.11 million tomans ($265) for a family of four. An adjustment of these numbers for the latest inflation statistics for Semnan published by the Statistical Center of Iran [Persian PDF] means that in November 2018 the absolute urban poverty line stood at close to 600,000 tomans ($141) for one person and around 1.6 million tomans ($382) for a household. This number is important because it is 500,000 tomans ($120) higher than the minimum wage in 2018.

Rural Poverty

Rural poverty line in Semnan is almost half of what the poverty line is in urban areas. Perhaps that is why the rate of poverty in the sparsely-populated rural areas of the province is around nine percent, much lower than that of the cities. The total rural population of Semnan is less than 142,000, of which close to 13,000, or slightly over 3,200 households, live below the poverty line.

In 2016, the absolute rural poverty line in Semnan was around 219,000 tomans ($52) for one person and close to 600,000 tomans ($141) for a family of four. If these figures are adjusted for inflation, in November 2018 the absolute rural poverty line stood at around 320,000 tomans ($75) for one person and close to 855,000 tomans ($204) for a household. 


Read the full Poverty in Iran series:

Poverty in Iran: An Introduction

Poverty in Iran: Qom

Poverty in Iran: West Azerbaijan

Poverty in Iran: Sistan and Baluchistan

Poverty in Iran: Kerman

Poverty in Iran: Golestan

Poverty in Iran: Hormozgan

Poverty in Iran: Semnan


Related Coverage:

Inflation Hits Iran’s Most Vulnerable as Crisis Continues, January 27, 2018

Iran’s Unemployment Crisis: Only 11 Million Full-time Jobs, January 23, 2019

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: Chabahar and the Province of Sistan and Baluchistan, September 6, 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



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