Saturday, May 16, 2009

Locating the Moroccan Middle Class

Here is an article from about controversy over who actually makes up the Moroccan middle class.


Middle class statistics spur debate in Morocco


A recent government study in Morocco is stirring up controversy over the definition of "middle class".

By Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Casablanca – 14/05/09

The state of the middle class is under review in Morocco, with experts debating the criteria used to define it, its size as a percentage of the population, and the quality of life it offers. Questionable numbers published in a recent High Commission for Planning (HCP) study have further fuelled this heated discussion.

The HCP study, released May 6th, shows that the middle class in Morocco accounts for 53% of the population, compared with 34% for the lower class and 13% for the upper class. Some 59% of the urban population belongs to the middle class, compared with 45% in rural areas.

Twenty-eight per cent of middle class households have an income greater than the national average of 5,308 dirhams per month, 42% belong to the intermediate category with income between the median and the national average, and 30% are in the lower category with income below the national median of 3,500 dirhams, explained High Commissioner for Planning Ahmed Lahlimi.

These statistics have stimulated a vigorous debate. Many have said that in the current period marked by the steady erosion of spending power and the negative effects of the international economic crisis on the labour market, the figure of 53% of Moroccans belonging to the middle class is an exaggeration. Others feel the definition of the middle class is incorrect and should be changed to give a clearer picture of the situation.

"The cost of living has increased so much over the past ten years that the middle class has been crushed, and many of them have started to disappear," explained economist Jamil Mellakhi. "A few years ago, someone earning 3,000 dirhams could provide their family with a decent standard of living; that is no longer the case today."

Mellakhi added that a household income of 3,500 to 5,000 dirhams per month could not be used as the defining characteristic of the middle class.

Several members of the public struck a similar note.

"Teachers, for example, belonged to the middle class in the 1980s. A primary school teacher would earn enough on their own to cover family expenditures and live comfortably," said Souhaila Kawtari, herself a teacher. "Over the past few years, things have changed. You can no longer say that teachers belong to the middle class."

Lahlimi explained that the definition of the middle class used for Morocco draws just as much on social self-classification by heads of household as it does on the objective criteria of income and living standards.

Self-evaluation does have its limitations. The results obtained from this approach are clearly skewed by cultural factors: the dominant culture is based around the idea of a happy medium, which means that both rich and poor like to identify themselves as middle class, Lahlimi added.

"So among the richest 20% of the population, 75% consider themselves to be middle class; meanwhile the figure is 37% for the poorest 20% of the population."

Sociologist Samira Brami agreed. Moroccans, she said, by virtue of their upbringing, are imbued with a spirit of resignation; hence, even poor people consider themselves from the middle class. "Similarly, the way of life changes from town to town. Someone living in Oujda will not have the same standard of living as someone in Casablanca. Other criteria come into play: leisure activities, comparisons, education, etc."

The prime minister's cabinet stated that the government is currently working on ways to provide support to the middle class, through controlling costs (housing, health, staple goods), encouraging employment to increase the number of wage earners within families, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, and improving public transport and rural development policies.

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