Lea Al-Azzi wrote in Al-Akhbar newspaper:
It may seem “shameful” to highlight the collapse of the middle class in Lebanon, in the presence of statistics on a poverty rate of 55%. However, the importance of this class lies in the fact that it is the “engine” of the economy. Its demise means the decline in demand, consumption and growth, and the surrounding circles will be negatively affected with the closure of companies and the dismissal of workers. The most dangerous thing for it is its ability to migrate, which deprives Lebanon of its human capital
The Lebanese middle class – the post-civil war version – is losing its “umbrella” of safety. A balanced class of middle-class components joined the ranks of those affected by economic policies, especially with the end of the “glory” of the 1,500 pounds, the high cost of consumption, the confiscation of the Bank of Lebanon and banks of US dollars, and the restrictions it imposed on withdrawing from the accounts of the Lebanese pound. A free collapse is facing this class, which some consider a “social safety belt”, according to the economist Roy Badaro. It was the one that was, to some extent, fraternity with the rentier and high interest system, so it “became aware” of its damages after it was hit by its strikes, and it was the beginning of the “cry” in the October 17 uprising, which this class formed one of its pillars, especially in the cities: Beirut , Tripoli, Jounieh.
In the report that the “United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia – ESCWA” completed last August, a paragraph was devoted to “the implications for middle-income and middle-class people”, revealing the results of “a major challenge facing Lebanon to preserve its demographic character, which is dominated by the income earners.” The average … The real challenge is that those with upper middle income and middle income, who represent the largest part of the human capital in the country, will have no choice but to emigrate. According to the published figures, the middle class (a person earns between $ 14 and $ 27 a day) has decreased from 45.6% in 2019 to 35.2% in 2020, and the upper middle class (a person earns between $ 27 and $ 34 a day) has dropped from 11.5%. In 2019, to 4.5% in 2020. Those who make more than $ 34 a day, their percentage has also decreased from 15% in 2019 to only 5% in 2020.
Why “concern” about the status of the middle class in a society in which the poverty rate has reached 55%? “Because it is the basis of vitality in the economy, at the cultural, educational, housing and consumption levels, in addition to engaging in political work and feeding it in exchange for a rich class allied with the powers of power,” says Nasser Yassin, professor of politics and planning at the American University of Beirut, citing the role he played Professionals, professors, doctors and lawyers on “October 17”. For Yassin, “It is true that the lower classes are suffering greatly, but the decay of the middle class means the loss of a part of Lebanon’s identity.”
Executive Director of the Foundation for Research and Consulting in Beirut, Kamal Hamdan, in his interview with Al-Akhbar, also refers to the role of the middle class as “the most important pillar of economic growth. The larger its circle includes a large number of individuals, the higher the production and consumption demand, and the quality of life differs.” So do we consider members of the middle class to be the producers of society? Hamdan replies that the middle class is defined “according to the level of income, which may result from fixed wages, self-employment, transfers from abroad, or savings and benefits. A small percentage of the non-producers out of the total middle class ».
Before the collapse of the exchange rate of the lira against the dollar, “the family that has an income ranging between $ 2,500 and $ 7,000, with an average of 1.6 activists inside it,” was included in the middle class, Hamdan says and explains that the crisis affected everyone: the self-employed, heads of departments, university professors, judges Doctors, engineers … all the way to the owners of establishments that either closed down, resulting in unemployment for their workers, or incurred losses that impose fundamental adjustments to the market, which will affect everyone who is related to the interests of the middle class. In short, “all those with incomes in the pound are in a state of fragility, with varying degrees between them.” A social shock will occur when subsidies on basic commodities that are not in line with a state’s social protection strategy are lifted. “The poverty rate will rise to 60%. This increase will come from the lower middle class, which lies directly above the upper poverty line. ”
According to Hamdan, there is still no study “in the scientific sense that determines the type and size of the collapsing paths”, but changes can be felt from “simple” examples, such as that it becomes possible to “abandon a visit to the dentist, maintain the car, and replace mobile phones in the event that they break down.” As Nasser Yassin mentions, a gradual upward movement towards “moving from the private school to the public school, replacing the private medical hospital at the expense of the Ministry of Health, and the opposite exodus from the city to the countryside with the rise in real estate prices, both selling and renting.” In some aspects, this appears in the failure to start repair work and repair of houses damaged by the Beirut port explosion, due to financial reasons and the absence of facilities from banks, despite the many declarations of “solidarity campaigns” on their part.
It is not the first time that “the collapse of the middle class” has been mentioned in Lebanon, for in every crisis it is at the center of a storm. In the March 25, 2019 issue of the “Capital Supplement”, the head of the economics department at the Lebanese American University, Ghassan Dibeh, wrote about “the decline of this class in favor of the concentration of wealth and income in the hands of the few.
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