Friday, May 17, 2013

The light at the end of the tunnel

I'm leaving this weekend to staff the ASSOCIATED Baltimore Jewish Federation Partnership mission to Odessa, Ukraine. Some issues we’re going to look at from a macro perspective …

Ukraine has a population of 45 million, with a labor force of 18 million and an official unemployment rate of 3.5%. Sounds great … but it’s not realistic.

There’s a shadow economy in Ukraine, with huge underemployment. 2 million Ukrainians work abroad (about half each in Russia and in Europe, mostly in Poland and Germany). Even so, there’s been some fairly good economic development notwithstanding the hard punch of the 2008-9 world economic crisis. It’s worth pointing out that Ukrainian banks didn’t collapse, large companies didn’t fail, there weren’t any riots.

Most economists in Ukraine point to the need for two major reforms:

(1) Medical – the funding doesn’t enable them to do what they need, so people die early and suffer. Last year they set up four pilot regions – Dnepropetrovsk is one of them – to implement proper medical care, insurance, to expand options and care. Medical care in Ukraine is very corrupt and poor. There’s no emphasis on the patient’s needs. Medicines are expensive and there's a shortage. There are a small number of pharmacy-discount programs like those of JDC, these are very impressive. But they need a lot more.

(2) Pensions – the pension age is going to be lifted from 55 to 60 for women and from 60 to 65 for men. It’s a good move. Many say that Ukrainians have gotten used to suffering. How can you survive on a pension of $100 a month? It’s much harder in the small towns and cities, interestingly. If you have a small garden outside you can manage a little easier if you can grow something.

Political scientists joke that the national sport in Ukraine is elections.
The question will be – on everything – is which way is Ukraine facing. – towards Russia or towards the West? There are no real ideological parties like we’re used to in the West; everything is based more on economic interests and language/identity. But in poll after poll, language identity comes low – usually 10th or 11th – on the list of what's important for people’s worries, after inflation, unemployment, cost of living, etc., when they go into the voting booth.

What's clear is that Ukraine could probably go on like this for a lot more time. There’s inertia, there’s an amazing capacity to bear suffering, with very slow progress.
But there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

The joke is that electricity got so expensive that they decided to turn off the light at the end of the tunnel!

No comments:

Post a Comment