While Sacha Baron Cohen may have put Kazakhstan on the map with his fictitious role as a journalist in the movie “Borat,” Kazakhstan today stands as a country that continues to face hurdles despite consistent economic growth over the past few decades.
A Central Asian country of nearly 18 million people, Kazakhstan is no stranger to economic uncertainties. Since gaining independence in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has experienced relatively steady economic growth, thanks in part to its expanding oil sector.
The country’s poverty rate declined by more than 50 percent between 1999 and 2004. Between 2004 and 2013, the nation’s GDP increased by more than 500 percent.
Nevertheless, nearly half of the country is considered to be in a low income class. Roughly 47 percent of the population maintains a monthly income of approximately $70.
Arguably most frustrating to many Kazakhstan citizens are the disparities in gross regional product (GRP.) Because some parts of the country are more resource-rich than others, inconsistencies in wealth have affected some Kazakhstanis more than others.
Even though the country has seen substantial economic growth in recent years, specifically in the oil, gas and minerals industries, employment levels in these industries have not matched the nation’s economic growth.
Following the turn of the century, much of the nation saw considerable gains in employment and labor productivity. Yet, the agricultural region of Kostanay and North Kazakhstan did not experience the same growth as others parts of the country. West Kazakhstan saw significant economic gains in the late 1990s following the introduction of an oil pipeline stretching from the Caspian Sea to China.Perhaps surprisingly, Kazakhstan’s oil-rich areas have also become the nation’s most impoverished.
The minimum income level below the subsistence minimum in Kazakhstan is $35 per month. Any amount below the minimum is considered as poverty. Between 1998 and 2003, the number of people living in poverty in the country fell from 5 million to 3 million.
According to a recent U.N. Development Programme report, unemployment and low income remain the primary causes of poverty in Kazakhstan.
Yet, it is hard to overlook the respectable economic gains the country has seen over the past two decades. Kazakhstan has made considerable headway in its attempts to cement its standing on the world stage. Last month, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a new law to lift to visa restrictions, enact tax exemptions and help stabilize tax rates to interest foreign investment, especially with the United States and other Western powers. These moves, among others, will help the country in the long-term as it continues to make strides against poverty.
– Ethan Safran