Survival in the "consumer basket"!

Abil Bausch - university professor / Photo: "Sloboden Pechat" / Dragan Mitreski

The gap between income and basic expenses shows that even the most basic needs can be difficult to achieve for a significant part of the population. This situation highlights the need for targeted social and economic policies that will improve the financial situation of workers with the lowest incomes and provide a better quality of life for all citizens in the Republic of North Macedonia.

The standard of living in our country, as in many other countries, is a subject that is constantly under the scrutiny of economists, politicians, social workers, as well as every citizen of this country. This standard is a reflection of the economic strength of the state and the ability of its citizens to satisfy their needs and desires. In this context, three key indicators that shape the picture of the standard of living are the consumption basket, the minimum and the average wage.

The consumption basket for a family of four in the Republic of North Macedonia, estimated according to the Union of Trade Unions of Macedonia at 57.476 denars without rent and 72.538 denars including rent, represents the minimum monthly amount needed to maintain a basic standard of living. This covers a wide range of basic needs such as food, clothing, housing costs, education, health care, and transportation. In the food section, a significant part of the budget is allocated for a balanced diet that includes meat, dairy products, cereals, fruits and vegetables, which is the basis for the health of the family. Clothing is also a significant expense, with the need for adequate clothing for each member of the family, including seasonal and special occasion clothing.

Housing costs vary by location and type of residence, but generally include rent or mortgage, as well as utility bills such as electricity, water, and heating. Education and health care are two other critical segments, with expenses for school supplies and books, as well as medical expenses for checkups and drugs. Transportation, whether via public transportation or maintaining a personal vehicle, represents an additional financial burden. Dealing with these costs is often a challenge for families earning minimum or average wages, highlighting the need for social and economic measures to support those on lower incomes and improve the overall quality of life in the country.

The minimum wage is the lowest legally allowed wage that an employer can pay to employees. It is designed to provide a minimum standard of living for workers. However, in many cases, the minimum wage is not enough to cover the costs of the basic consumer basket, leaving many workers struggling with financial challenges. In the Republic of North Macedonia, the minimum wage is about MKD 21.000. An interesting fact is that about 46% of the total number of employees in the country live on incomes that are equivalent to the minimum wage, which indicates a significant part of the workforce that faces serious financial constraints.

Comparing this minimum wage with the consumption basket for a family of four, which is estimated at 57.000 denars without rent and 72.000 denars with rent, it is clear that even with this modest consumption basket it is very difficult to ensure a decent life for families that rely on the minimum salary. The gap between income and basic expenses shows that even the most basic needs can be difficult to achieve for a significant part of the population. This situation highlights the need for targeted social and economic policies that will improve the financial situation of workers with the lowest incomes and provide a better quality of life for all citizens in the Republic of North Macedonia.

Average salary, on the other hand, is the average amount of earnings received by an employee during a certain period. It provides a better picture of the economic status of workers and their ability to meet the standard of living. However, the distribution of wages can be uneven, meaning that while some enjoy a higher standard of living, others may face financial hardship.

The analysis of the current economic situation in Macedonia, with a particular focus on the comparison between the minimum and average wages in relation to the costs of the consumer basket, reveals deep structural problems that cause significant financial difficulties for citizens with lower incomes. This situation not only hinders the ability of these citizens to meet basic needs, but also limits their opportunities for social mobility and economic independence. In this context, economic reforms and social programs are identified as critical tools to mitigate these challenges and to support sustainable economic growth that can contribute to social well-being.

In particular, initiatives to increase the minimum wage and improve working conditions are fundamental pillars for raising living standards. It is also essential to stimulate economic growth through policies that encourage investment, innovation, and the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. This would enable the creation of more and better jobs, simultaneously increasing the income of citizens and reducing the poverty rate.

To achieve these goals, full and multisectoral engagement is imperative, including state institutions, the private sector, and civil society. This collaborative framework would enable the sharing of responsibilities and resources, as well as the use of different expertise for the development and implementation of effective policies. The active participation of civil society is particularly significant for ensuring transparency and accountability in the political decision-making process, as well as for raising public awareness of the importance of social justice and economic egalitarianism (equality).

Political parties, considering the pre-election period, have a key role in dealing with the economic and social challenges that citizens face. They have opportunities to propose specific measures and initiatives in their political programs, which would improve the standard of living and social well-being. Measures may include raising the minimum and average wages, in line with the real cost of living and the consumer basket, as well as tax policy reforms to support low- and middle-income households. In addition, improvements to labor conditions, protection of workers, as well as the development of policies to stimulate economic growth by supporting investment, innovation, and development of small and medium-sized enterprises can be proposed.

On the way to improving social well-being, political parties can also introduce social programs to support the most vulnerable categories of the population, invest in the education system and professional training, and advocate for increased transparency and citizen participation in policy-making. These initiatives can include regular consultations with interested parties and active involvement of citizens in the political decision-making process. Through the integration of these measures in their political programs, political parties will demonstrate their commitment to solving problems that directly affect the standard of living and will contribute to the improvement of economic and social conditions in the country, strengthening trust and support between citizens and political institutions.

(The author is an economic analyst)




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