Home / Culture and Society / Egypt: Lack of a Living Wage Called for Desperate Measures

Egypt: Lack of a Living Wage Called for Desperate Measures

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Could you live off a basic monthly minimum wage of $6.35? (I had to check a couple of sources to verify there wasn’t a typo) No joke. That’s what the minimum wage is in Egypt and has been since 1984. Rioting in the streets in Egypt today did not suddenly emerge as an idea tossed around the social networking sites. It’s been simmering for decades.

Imagine if nearly one third of our children in the United States were malnourished because most of us could not afford to feed them. Surely we’d be out demonstrating in the streets too, and we’d probably take help from anywhere we could find it. The average Egyptian worker makes around $55 a month. Yes, a month. It’s a figure, though much larger than the $6.35 minimum wage, still hard to imagine stretching far enough to cover just the food needs of a family of four. And over the past couple of years food prices there have soared, forcing many families to cut back on meals.

Egypt’s government subsidizes some staples, like wheat; but lamentably the poorest of the poor, who really need that help, are least likely to benefit from it. A robust black market skims off large portions of subsidized goods crippling the system and creating more resentment and distrust towards the government.

In the United States, though the economic times have been rough for us, our experiences pale in comparison to the struggles that have been felt in North Africa for decades and most recently have erupted into full-blown popular revolutions. Egypt’s recent economic prospects have shown growth, yet its poverty rate is still as high as 40%—by some accounts, even higher. For comparison, our own poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 14.3%, based on a family of four living on less than $22,050.

Going back to that dismal minimum wage in Egypt, obviously $6.35 is laughably short of what anyone would need to pay for the basics of life, food, clothing and shelter. If the average blue collar family in Egypt makes between $50 and $100 a month even with two adults working, they still are below the World Bank’s poverty line.  Over the past years, trade unions in Egypt have been urging the government to raise the minimum wage to $222 a month, or 1,200 Egyptian pounds. Business associations are asking for the minimum wage to go no higher than 400 Egyptian pounds, or $74. The discrepancy between labor and management demands is not surprising. But with an increased minimum wage the hope is there will be an eventual “trickle up,” with wages rising up the ladder, eventually improving the lives of everyone.

In many countries where poverty is rife and education is lacking, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, the door is open for radical groups who offer social services to the desperate poor to gain footing. This is a concern not without merit. We’ve seen it happen before. Shoring up social safety nets, improving education and opportunities is Good Government 101. In the case of Egypt, a strategically important ally to the U.S. and second biggest recipient of U.S. aid, you could say we have a vested interest in how the uprising turns out.

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About Birgit Nazarian

  • While the link you supplied mentions use of corn in making ethanol it seems to downplay that market happening.

    Some reports I’ve heard make it the #1 reasons that countries that rely on grain staples are struggling. The price of corn and its use as an oil subsidy are unsustainable.

    Not only does gas mileage go down with ethanol but it plays to the hand of farmers and corporations that profit from its 10% makeup of oil.

    Instead of getting off the Arab oil tet we have cemented the deal with corn and caused food riots to erupt all over the globe. And more to come.

  • John Lake

    These figures just don’t add up. If they make over $6.00/hr, they are competitive with America’s poorest. Unless, that is, for some reason they only work a few hours monthly. In any case, we are told many of the demonstrators in Cairo and Egypt today are students.

  • STM

    No John, that’s $6.35 A MONTH minimum wage. The average wage is $55 a month. That figure is in US dollars, which means it’s an artifical comparison based on an exchange rate – because what you can do with $55 in Egypt is a lot different to what you can do with $55 in the US.

    Neverthless, even given purchasing power parity, it means Egytians are really struggling. Measuring by GDP per capita using the PPP model, Egypt comes in at number 103 and the US at sixth in the world on the IMF list. The CIA world factbook lists the US at 8th and Egypt at 106th.

    Compare that to Egypt’s middle-east neighbour Qatar, which tops the list of both. No wonder Egytians are angry.

  • It was reported on the news today that around 20% of Egypt’s population is living on $2 a day or less.

  • flark

    immediate attention is needed to this issue

  • Baronius

    Yeah, but where would the money come from? You can raise the minimum wage all you want, but if no one can afford to pay it, it doesn’t do much good.

  • dad

    Recently, the president of Egypt said he would step down when his term expires, where does it go from there?

  • I believe the time has come for those countries to embrace the XXI Century.

    The leaders on the North of Africa have been in power keeping the population ignorant, fueling hate on others and controlling the supply of basic products.

    With people getting access to cheap communications and new technologies the movement has started. People in Egypt can see that neighbors enjoy higher standards of living.

    Israel has a “minimum wage” of approx. $1,000/month
    and the average is over $2,000 in 2005 Dollars… They need people to go there to work, why not open the borders?

    Egypt has a great potential with the Tourist Industry, the Cotton farming, the Suez Channel, etc. It should be a booming economy… It is because of leaders like Mubarak, who want to stay in power more than anything else, that the situation is so critical.

  • kurt brigliadora

    …The question is: What are the intentions of the muslim brotherhood? …When they take total control of Egypt and areas alike,will it be for promoting peace or terror? By the way “do the riotors need to trash all christian churches and statues?”

  • kurt brigliadora

    The people need to make sure the conditions don’t get any worse! O.K. so lets say the muslim brotherhood takes control. Where do the resources come from to lift the standard of living in that area? What jobs can you create, what food can you distribute,where will the funds come from ?