A new report by Iran Open Data has found that the so-called "misery index" in Iran has reached its highest level in a decade. The misery index is an economic indicator designed in the 1970s to assess the level of hardship experienced by an average citizen, and is calculated by adding the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate to the annual inflation rate.
The collaborative research group found that in the Persian year 1399 (March 2020-March 2021), the misery index across Iran rose to an average of 46 percent, with province-level variation of 14.3 percent. Researchers warned that unemployment and inflation at the outset of 1400 could also mean the situation worsens in the year to come.
Iran Open Data based its calculations on figures published by the Statistical Center of Iran, where the officially-recorded inflation rate appears to be somewhat optimistic. As researchers pointed out, the unemployment rate declared by the Statistical Center was artificially lowered by a drastic decline in economic participation in the past year.
Although the final percentages may be an understatement, Iran Open Data’s report also sheds light on the different levels of economic strain being experienced by Iranians in different parts of the country. The Persian-language map below details province-level variations in the misery index for 1399.
Researchers found that the provinces of Hormozgan to the south, and Kermanshah, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kurdistan and Lorestan to the west, recorded the highest rates of “misery” in the country. Kermanshah had the highest misery index of all, at 55 percent.
The area least-affected by economic strife was Markazi province, at 40.7 percent, followed by Mazandaran, Semnan, South Khorasan and Razavi Khorasan to the northeast.
IranWire’s Persian service previously published a report that showed a clear link between high misery index scores and low turnout in elections. The most economically marginalized in Iran are often also among the most politically disenfranchised.
Even in provinces that did not score as badly in 1399, the situation could hardly be classed as rosy. Mazandaran province recorded a year-round inflation rate of 33 percent. For this to be the lowest inflation rate recorded anywhere in the country – the highest, in Kermanshah, came in at 40.1 percent in a mere 12 months – is a catastrophe.
"Factors contributing to provincial inflation rates," Iran Open Data surmised, "include proximity to the hubs of goods and services, high cost of transportation and communication and lack of access to basic necessities.
"However, the most important factors that contribute to high inflation rates are rooted in the country’s core economic conditions. These include the government’s budgetary imbalance, high budget deficits, and the methods used to mitigate these issues, all of which negatively affect liquidity and ultimately lead to a rise in inflation rates. The economic situation in 2020 was only worsened by the coronavirus and sanctions."
The unemployment rate in Lorestan province in 2020-2021 officially came in at 15.2 percent, and 14 percent in Kurdistan, while the comparatively better-off provinces of Razavi Khorasan and South Khorasan reported unemployment rates of just over six percent. Even by official estimates, unemployment rates in western parts of Iran are more than twice those in the northeast.
Powerful religious institutions such as Astan Qods Razavi in Mashhad see a larger amount of financial resources diverted to the north and east. Western Iran is home to many of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities and has been systematically starved of resources over the years, as well as being more vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes.
But Iran Open Data’s investigation shows that even according to the optimistic official statistics, the scale of hardship Iranians are now experiencing throughout the country has increased to an unprecedented level.