A joint survey conducted by BIGD and PPRC with thousands of slum-dwellers and villagers across the country has found that a few could recover from the economic distress created by the pandemic.
The survey was first conducted in April and then followed up in June.
In a webinar hosted today, Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairman of PPRC and Dr Imran Matin, Executive Director of BIGD presented these findings.
Small businesses, unskilled and skilled labour have been the hardest hit. Women have been more severely affected across all occupational categories; over half of the women working as housemaids in February were still out of work in June.
In April, a month after the pandemic started, only 50% households in rural areas and 32% in urban slums had any economic activity. After the lockdown was lifted, many have since resumed their work, and the rates substantially improved in June, 83% and 84% respectively. But this revival has so far not really been translated in income recovery; only a fraction of the per capita income lost due to the pandemic was recovered in June. And about 17% households were still out of work in June.
Nowhere is this more evident than in people's food expenditure. Per capita food expenditure that dropped after the pandemic did not improve much in June. Thirty percent households in June reduced food consumption to cope with the decline in income, very little change from April. Having three meals was almost universal before the pandemic, but 11% urban slum-dwellers (6% rural residents) did not have three meals in June, as high as 15% in Dhaka. A vast majority of the households were not having meat or milk since the pandemic. This has created a situation of hidden hunger, which can be detrimental be for the physical and mental development of infants and children.
The dismal scenario has had a serious impact on the poverty dynamics in Bangladesh. In April, we had found that, for 73% of vulnerable non-poor people, (per capita income above upper poverty line and below the median national income) income had come much below the poverty line. We termed them the 'new poor' of Bangladesh. In June, the status of the 'new poor' was almost unchanged. Taking these new poor into account, the poverty rate in Bangladesh currently stands at a staggering 42%.
Those living in urban areas are doubly vulnerable due to the burdens of non-food expenditures, such as rent, utility, and transportation cost –largely inelastic expenditures predominantly associated with an urban lifestyle. Consequently, many urban residents are moving out of the city – 16% and eight percent respondents in Dhaka and Chittagong had moved to some other districts, which indicate a graver economic burden on city-dwellers.
It is clear that the pandemic is changing the extent and nature of poverty in Bangladesh, at least in the short to medium run.
Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairman of PPRC said, 'People will try to work but they need safe working environment for that. For gaining the self-confidence new national mood is needed.'
Dr Imran Matin, Executive Director of BIGD said, "One of the notable impacts on employment that we found from our research is 'feminization'. Not only has there been an increase in unemployment in women-dominated occupations such as 'housemaids', but we also found that the impact on female employment is comparatively worse than that of male employment, even in sectors where both men and women workers are present."
Researchers were also present with the journalists at the press conference.