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Social and economic trends

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has recently released the key findings from two major surveys – the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLSMS) and the Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES) – of 2018-19. These efforts at early finalization by the PBS must be appreciated.

The last national/provincial PSLSMS was undertaken in 2013-14 and, therefore, the latest survey has come after five years. The last HIES was in 2015-16 and the gap in this case is shorter of three years.

The key findings are disappointing with regard to the rate of improvement in human development indicators in the country. The literacy rate in population aged 10 years or more was 58 percent in 2013-14 and in five years it has increased by only two percentage points to 60 percent. Pakistan today has the lowest literacy rate among the major countries of South Asia. According to the World Bank the literacy rate in population aged 15 years and above is 92 percent in Sri Lanka, 74 percent in India and Bangladesh, 68 percent in Nepal and only 59 percent in Pakistan. Also, the literacy gap between males and females is the highest in Pakistan.

The key health indicator is infant mortality under-5 years per 1000 live births. The PSLSMS reports it as 60. This compares with only 7 in Sri Lanka, 30 in Bangladesh, 32 in Nepal and 37 in India.

There is also the problem of low net enrollment at different levels of schooling. According to the PSLSMS it is 66 percent at the primary level, 38 percent at the middle level and 27 percent at the high school level. Here again, there has also been only a marginal improvement since 2013-14. Overall, more than 20 million children are out of school. This is truly a sad reflection of the low priority given to basic education despite Article 25A of the Constitution.

The regional variation is also substantial in these indicators. The PSLSMS reports that in 2018-19 the highest literacy rate was 72 percent in Punjab and the lowest at only 40 percent in Baluchistan. It is 66 percent in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (including the merged districts) and 56 percent in Sindh. Despite having the highest rate of urbanization, the low literacy rate in Sindh is probably attributable to the extremely low level of literacy in the rural areas of the Province.

The Provincial coverage of immunization is also very varied. Punjab has the highest level of full child immunization at 81 percent, followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at 62 percent, Sindh at 50 percent and Baluchistan at 30 percent. This ranking among the Provinces is the same in most social indicators. Punjab generally has the highest ranking, followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa., Sindh and Baluchistan.

The PSLSMS also quantifies some important housing indicators. The first is the extent to which housing units are owner-occupied in Pakistan. This is revealed as 84 percent in 2018-19. It has remained unchanged since 2014-15. As before, the access to gas at the household level remains low at 47 percent and to tap water at only 18 percent.

We turn now to the findings from the HIES in 2018-19. The first key magnitude is the average household size in the country. It stands at 6.24 persons as compared to 6.31 in 2015-16. This implies that on the average 900,000 new households are being formed annually. This does not necessarily imply the construction of the corresponding number of housing units. It probably reflects more a higher residential density of the housing stock.

A key indicator is the rise in the national average household income from 2015-16 to 2018-19 as quantified by the HIES. In nominal terms it is 16 percent. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) also increased cumulatively during these three years by 16 percent. Therefore, there has been no rise in real household incomes. However, the HIES reports an increase in real per capita income during the three years of 3 percent. This is significantly less than the 7 percent reported in the GNP estimates for this period.

There is also significant variation in average household income among the Provinces according to the HIES. The highest household income in 2018-19 is in Punjab at Rs 42861 per month, followed by Rs 41813 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Rs 39078 in Sindh and Rs 36387 in Baluchistan. Therefore, the Provincial rankings in income are the same as in the social indicators. It is significant that in 2015-16, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had the highest household income. The possible reason for it slipping to the second place is its much greater dependence on remittances, both foreign and domestic. The latter, in particular, may have been slow growing after 2015-16.

The HIES also highlights some important changes in the income distribution among population quintiles by income in the three-year period. The ratio of the per capita income in the highest quintile to that in the lowest quintile, also referred to as the PALMA ratio, is estimated at 4.7 in 2018-19. It was 5.1 in 2015-16. Following the release of detailed information from the HIES, it will be important to explore why the income distribution has become somewhat more equal in Pakistan. Is it the consequence of low average GDP growth of less than 4.5 percent during the three years? Earlier research has revealed that in Pakistan periods of relatively low GDP growth are accompanied by a decrease in inequality.

A truly positive finding is on the extent of ownership of mobile phones in the country. The PSLSMS reports that 95 percent of the households own a mobile phone. This is 98 percent in the urban areas and 93 percent in the rural areas. There has undoubtedly been a telecom revolution in the country.

There is no doubt that the two surveys, PSLSMS and HIES, have highlighted important social and economic trends in the last few years. We eagerly await the detailed reports. Also, the PBS is requested to undertake these surveys more frequently, preferably once every two years.

Dr Hafiz A Pasha, "Social and economic trends," Business Recorder. 2020-04-28.
Keywords: Economics , Social sciences , Economic issues , Economic growth , Economic trends , Human development , Literacy rate , Rural areas , Pakistan , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , Sindh , Baluchistan , HIES , CPI , GNP , GDP

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