Soviet Union Table of Contents
Within the general pay hierarchy, the order, going from the highest to the lowest level of pay, was as follows: the upper crust of the political and artistic elites; the professional, intellectual, and artistic intelligentsia; the most highly skilled workers; white-collar workers and the more prosperous farmers; the average workers; and, at the bottom, the average agricultural laborers and workers with few skills. The policy of wage differentiation, put into practice in the 1930s, has continued into the late 1980s. Western scholars, however, have disagreed about the exact level of such differentiation. During the 1970s, the salary ratio of the highest 10 percent of all wage earners to the lowest 10 percent has been estimated as ranging from four to one to ten to one. Dissident Soviet historian Roy Medvedev has stated that within the same enterprise the salaries of senior executives ranged from ten to fifty times that of workers. Most industries had six grades of pay, and most workers had incomes near to but not at the bottom of the pay scale (see table 18, Appendix A).
As a group, leaders in the government, party, and military received the highest pay. In February 1989, the editor of a Soviet journal admitted to a Western reporter that the top marshals and generals in the Ministry of Defense earned the highest salaries, as much as 2,000 rubles (for value of the ruble--see Glossary) per month. Gorbachev, the head of the Soviet state and the CPSU, was said to receive 1,500 rubles a month, while other Politburo members earned 1,200 to 1,500 rubles a month. Another Soviet official has acknowledged that entertainers and other artists with nationwide recognition received about 1,000 rubles a month, as did seasonal construction workers, whose work sent them to various areas of the country. Western sources have estimated that the government leaders at the republic level earned 625 rubles a month. Those receiving high incomes often were awarded extra pay in the form of a "thirteenth month" or "holiday increment."
At the lower end of the pay scale were those workers employed in what one Western sociologist called the "traditionally neglected economic areas," which not only paid lower wages but also awarded smaller bonuses and fringe benefits. In the 1980s, an estimated 7 million people worked in low-paying industrial sectors, such as light industries (textiles, clothing, and footwear) and food processing. Another 30 million workers were employed in low-paying jobs involving retail trade, food service, state farming, education, public amenities, and health care. Those who performed unskilled supportive functions, the so-called "assistant workers" and "junior service personnel," such as janitors, watchmen, and messengers, also received low wages, as did office personnel in all sectors. And although the income of collective farmers had improved greatly since the 1960s, their average monthly income in 1986 was only 83 percent of the average wage of 195.6 rubles.
Not all individuals in positions requiring higher or specialized education were paid more than those requiring less education, even though they received greater prestige. Low-paid specialists included engineers, veterinarians, agronomists, accountants, legal advisers, translators, schoolteachers, librarians, organizers of clubs and cultural events, musicians, and even physicians. Women dominated these professions (see table 19, Appendix A). In 1988 the average monthly wage of medical personnel who had completed secondary or higher education was 160 rubles, or 82 percent of the average wage.
Lack of official statistics made it difficult to determine the number of Soviet citizens living in poverty. Until Gorbachev assumed power in 1985, Soviet officials claimed that poverty could not exist in their country, although they did admit to the problem of "underprovisioning" (maloobespechennost'). In the late 1980s, however, Soviet economists acknowledged that 20 percent of the population lived under the poverty threshold, which was estimated at 254 rubles a month for an urban family of four. Mervyn Matthews, a British expert on Soviet poverty, estimated that 40 percent of blue- collar workers and their dependents lived below the poverty threshold. Matthews calculated that in 1979 the poverty threshold was 95 percent of the average income of a family of four that had two parents working outside the home. Similar figures for the late 1980s were unavailable in the West. Many pensioners likewise appear to fall under the official poverty level. The 56.8 million pensioners in 1986 received an average of only 38 percent of the average wage, while pensioners from collective farms averaged only 25 percent (see Welfare , ch. 6).
The official statistics reflected income obtained from the state-controlled economy. They did not include income that was obtained legally or illegally outside of the official economy (see Nature of the National Economy , ch. 11). Unofficial income included earnings from such varied sources as private agricultural production, goods produced on official time with company resources and then sold privately, and profit realized from illegal currency exchanges. Western specialists had little information on the exact extent of this activity but acknowledged that it was widespread, especially in Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus. However, the extent to which income derived from unofficial sources raised the per capita income of the average Soviet citizen in 1989 was undetermined.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents