Vietnamese Earn More but Rich-Poor Gap Widens

January 14, 2003

Vietnamese workers are getting fatter pay cheques but the communist country's wealth gap is widening, state media reported. The average income in the Southeast Asian country has risen 12.2 percent from 1999 to 2001, to around $22 a month, the Vietnam News Agency said in a report seen on Wednesday, citing a survey from the General Statistics Office. The data is the latest on incomes and also covers the first half of 2002.

In a country where about a third of the 80 million population lives in poverty, the rich earned 12.5 times more than the worst off, a 1.9-fold increase in 2001 from 1999, the report said.

Vietnam has one of Asia's fastest-growing economies, with an annual growth rate of around seven percent. Spurred by economic reforms that began in the 1980s, the country has evolved from a centrally planned economy to a market -oriented one. This has resulted in a mushrooming of private businesses and raised incomes.

Signs of increasing wealth among Vietnamese are evident in the cities, where expensive Japanese motorbikes can be seen and hip teenagers chat on the latest mobile phone models. Auto sales in Vietnam were up 37 percent in 2002 from the previous year.

The United Nations Development Programme said on Wednesday the country's widening gap between rich and poor was now a big problem. "It does raise concerns," Nguyen Tien Phong, head of the agency's poverty and social development section, told Reuters.

He said ethnic minority groups tended to be isolated economically and their provinces fell behind those in industrialised areas targeted for investment.

The survey said those living in southern economic hub Ho Chi Minh City and nearby provinces -- Vietnam's bread basket and industrial areas -- topped the income list. The Central Highlands, which has one of the highest concentrations of ethnic minority residents, was at the bottom of the income list.

Vietnamese spent more as their salaries increased, the survey said. In 2001, the average monthly expenditure was up 15.3 percent at 255,000 dong ($16.58) from 1999. Each Vietnamese saved around $5 a month on average. ($1=15,380 dong)

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