Bulgaria Table of Contents
Bulgarian Orthodox Church of St. George enclosed by
courtyard of Balkan Sheraton Hotel, Sofia
Courtesy Sam and Sarah Stulberg
From the end of World War II until the 1960s, the Bulgarian standard of living experienced no significant improvements. A net decline may have occurred during some of the collectivization drives. The first improvements came when the government instituted a minimum agricultural wage as part of its reconciliation with the peasants after the Zhivkov Theses failed in 1960. Increases in real incomes in agriculture rose by 6.7 percent per year during the 1960s. During this same period, industrial wages increased by 4.9 percent annually. Early in the 1960s, higher prices offset those wage increases; but by 1970, increased urban food supplies made improved urban incomes meaningful. According to official data, from the Fourth through the Eighth Five-Year Plans (1961-85), growth in real wages ranged from 5.3 percent (1966-70) to 0.5 percent (1976- 80). The latter figure is low because a major price revision in 1979 raised prices of foodstuffs by 25 percent and consumer goods by 15 percent. Real growth in Bulgaria at that point was the lowest in Europe. Bulgarian statistics indicating real income growth often were inaccurate, however. A major distortion resulted from the failure of official figures to account for variations in availability of commodities or services or for government subsidies for food, housing, education, and health care--vital factors in evaluating standard of living and purchasing power.
In 1990 a Bulgarian economist made an independent attempt to construct a consumer price index for the period 1979 through 1989. Based on those findings, inflation during that period was 131 percent, or 8.7 percent per year. Official data showed a 9.0 percent increase in consumer prices between 1980 through 1988, or 1.1 percent annually. The same study compared the quantity of various food items that could be purchased with the average monthly salary in nine different countries, including four in the West (Austria, France, West Germany, and Britain). Of ten basic food categories, the lowest amount that average monthly earnings purchased in the Western economies was 3.3 times the amount obtainable from average monthly earnings in Bulgaria. Even in comparison with the other socialist countries in the study, Bulgarian purchasing power was the lowest by at least 25 percent. A mitigating factor in the latter set of comparisons is that official encouragement of private plots spurred substantially greater availability (albeit at greater cost) than in most other East European economies.
Some improvement was achieved in the Bulgarian diet in the 1970s and 1980s. Wary of popular discontent, Zhivkov made a major speech in December 1972 in which he promised a ten-year program to raise living standards in general, and to raise food consumption to the "scientific norms" set by the United Nations (UN). Zhivkov never was entirely successful in this effort, however. Bread and sugar were the only foods for which Bulgarian consumption rates reached or exceeded UN norms in the later Zhivkov years.
Availability of consumer durables significantly improved in the 1970s. According to official statistics, between 1965 and 1988 the number of televisions per 100 households increased from 8 to 100; radios increased from 59 to 95; refrigerators from 5 to 96; washing machines from 23 to 96; and automobiles from 2 to 40. Available automobiles were primarily Soviet Fiats, some of which were manufactured in Bulgaria. Assembly of the Soviet Moskvich began at the Lovech Vehicle Assembly Plant in 1988.
Housing was one of the most serious shortcomings in the Bulgarian standard of living. Residential construction targets in the Five-Year Plans were regularly underfulfilled. Consequently, families often waited several years for apartments; in Sofia, where overcrowding was at its worst, the wait was as long as ten years.
Data as of June 1992
Bulgaria Table of Contents