BEIRUT: Lebanon has long been described as an upper-middle-class nation on the come up in the South Mediterranean region, but one-third of its population is considered poor according to former United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Adib Nehme.
That figure hasn't necessarily changed since 1995, he says, pointing out to a number of studies he conducted or participated in that time frame.
This translates to around 1.5 million individuals living on less than 4 dollars a day or 120 dollars a month, struggling to make ends meet from rent, food, and healthcare, as illustrated by the UNDP's 'Rapid Poverty Assessment in Lebanon' in 2016.
"Those who are considered poor in this case are not beggars on the street, it's those who are unable to provide basic livelihood needs, from school tuitions to utility bills," he says.
Another 30 percent, Nehme explains, are able to meet these basic livelihood needs while managing to save a certain amount of money at the end of each month.
"The middle class ranges between 15 and 20 percent," he says, before highlighting that the wealthiest individuals make around 3 percent of the population while only one percent of Lebanese hold a quarter of the country's wealth.
This phenomenon is not unique Lebanon, with the top one percent now owning 50.1 percent of the world's wealth, up from 45.5 percent in 2001.
"This gross disparity in wealth in the world is not limited to income but also includes properties owned and other financial securities."
This is evidenced in Credit Suisse's global wealth report of 2017 which shows that the world’s richest people have seen their share of the globe’s total wealth increase since the 2008 financial crisis.
These millionaires, who account for 0.7 percent of the world’s adult population, are in possession of 46 percent of total global wealth that now stands at $280tn.
Meanwhile, the world’s 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000, Nehmeh says.
Pivoting back to Lebanon, Nehme maintains the "minimum of wage of 800 Lebanese pounds isn't enough to cover basic expenses in the countryside, let alone the capital Beirut."
"Anything even ranging between 800 to 1000 dollars wouldn't go a long way."
"Between 35 to 40 percent of poor people register their children in public schools, while 7 to 9 percent of parents elected to enroll their kids in private schools where tuitions vary according to the quality of education received."
Economist Loris Hobeika argues that any Lebanese touching the minimum wage of $450 falls beneath the poverty line, noting that "the World Bank classifies any individual making between one or two dollars per as poor."
To provide for a family of four, including two kids, both parents must bring in at least $2000 per month to cover rent in the vicinity of Beirut, as well as school tuitions and other essential expenses, Hobeika says.
Foreign remittance inflows are of the utmost importance, the economist argued, as one-third of Lebanese families depend on financial support from their loved ones abroad.
However, remittances were valued at $701 million in January 2018, a fraction of the $1.3 billion deposited the same month of last year.
An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.