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Russia: Making Ends Meet Not an Easy Task
Moscow Times, May 19, 2003
Moscow - These are not the best of
times for Russian pensioners, especially those who have been retired for
some time. Older pensioners can't help comparing their current plight with
the Soviet era, when a full pension of 132 rubles paid the bills with
enough left over to help supplement their grandchildren's student
And that was small potatoes compared to
the pensions paid to retirees from the military, scientific research
institutes, universities and other institutions of higher learning. A
professor friend of mine received 160 rubles per month, which more than
allowed him to keep up appearances.
There's no point in discussing how
pensioners live on average. So much depends on personality, acquired
habits, health, social status, apartment, family relations and so on.
Trying to describe the living conditions of a hypothetical pensioner is no
more useful than determining the average temperature of the patients in a
But it is possible to identify certain
general tendencies in the welfare of our seniors. First of all, the
government's efforts to improve our standard of living over the past two
years have not been terribly successful. The rising cost of food, housing,
services and medicine has far outpaced supplements to indexed pensions.
I talk with lots of elderly people.
Those who retired recently, who are still in good health and are able to
earn a little extra on the side, are doing fairly well on the whole. But
those over 70, whose pension is their only source of income, struggle just
to survive. They eat simply and try to cut costs on everything from
electricity to shoes.
I know an 83-year-old woman, a
group-two invalid who lives on her own. She retired 25 years ago after a
long career as an engineer. She receives a pension of 2,970 rubles
($95.50) per month and a 120 ruble ($3.86) subsidy from the city of
Moscow. She spends about 500 rubles per month on housing and utilities.
Once every two months she receives a care package of food worth 300 rubles
from a local charity.
All of her remaining money goes for
food and medicine. She is diabetic, and therefore has to buy certain
special items which inevitably cost extra. Her fructose, for example,
costs 112 rubles per kilogram. She spends nothing on books or
entertainment. Shoes and clothing she buys in second-hand shops.
She is dismissive of schemes under
which people swap their apartments for a spot in a full-service retirement
home. Too often the insurance companies that make these offers fail to
live up to their end of the bargain. She does not consider herself needy,
because she has adapted to her new conditions.
But she is the exception.