Russians - Economy

In 1985 the Russian Republic had about 83.8 million persons of working age (men reckoned from 16 to 59 years of age; women from 16 to 54). The number employed as workers and service personnel was about 63 million, whereas collective farmers numbered 4.5 million. Fifty-two percent of this civilian employment was female. Eighty-one percent of the working-age population was working. Nonworkers, unemployed, and people working exclusively in the private sector composed the remainder—or somewhat more, since a fair proportion of older men were still employed. The total labor force, including that concerned with private agricultural plots, was divided as follows: industry and construction, 42 percent; agriculture and forestry, 14 percent; transport and communications, 10 percent; trade and food services, 8 percent; health, physical education, social security, and science, 18 percent: governmental administration, 3 percent; housing and miscellaneous, 5 percent.

Economic returns included pay and entitlements, which depended on the place of employment, party status, and other determinants. In 1985 pay averaged 210 rubles per month, running highest in water transport (287 rubles) and lowest in "cultural work" (123 rubles). Service in remote areas, such as the Arctic, led to large bonuses; all Siberians get "northern percentages" (but prices are higher in Siberia). Entitlements covered housing, health care, day care, vacation sites, and even the right to purchase luxuries such as Volga cars, but these benefits were all but absent for the "unorganized" population, which included children not attending nurseries and schools, the unemployed, and the retired, particularly in rural areas.

The state and cooperative retail trade, including food services, provide only a partial picture of consumption; the unofficial shadow economy is not measured in the official statistics, although it involves a large part of the economy; nor are the large price differences for various social groups included. Official figures for 1985 indicate that 51 percent of the total volume of sales was for foodstuffs, including 5 percent on meat and fowl and 3 percent on bologna. Dairy products took about 3 percent; fats, 2.4 percent; eggs, almost 2 percent. Bread, heavily subsidized, accounted for 2.6 percent; vegetables and fruits, for 3.5 percent. Potatoes continue to be a mainstay of the diet, and most families seem to have a supply of them. Of nonfood items, clothes, footwear, and cloth were the largest component at 21.4 percent. Consumer durables (i.e., cars, furniture, carpets, bicycles, and motorcycles) came to 8.4 percent, whereas soap, detergents, and perfume took 1.6 percent. Printed matter—Russians are avid readers—was 1.4 percent. All else came to 15.7 percent.

These statistics reflect the austere way of life of the majority of the Russian population. Only occasionally can an average Russian enjoy traditional foods such as pirozhk i (meator cabbage-filled turnovers) or go to the circus, enjoy tapes or concerts, or travel freely by car or motorcycle to escape overcrowded housing. This context gives rise to high rates of alcoholism and family violence.

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