By Bahram Khodabandeh
July 16, 2021
A new report by Iran Open Data has found that the so-called “misery index” in Iran has reached its highest level in a decade. The misery index is an economic indicator designed in the 1970s to assess the level of financial pressure on an ordinary citizen, and is calculated by adding the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate to the annual inflation rate.
The collaborative research group found that in the Persian calendar year 1399 (March 2020-March 2021), the misery index across Iran rose to an average of 46 percent with significant regional variation. Researchers warned that unemployment and inflation at the outset of 1400 could also mean the situation worsens in the year to come.
Iran Open Data also based its calculations on figures published by the Statistical Center of Iran, where the officially-recorded inflation rate appears to be somewhat lower than the real one. The unemployment rate declared by the Statistical Center has also been artificially lowered by a drastic decline in economic participation rates in the past year.
Although the final percentages may be an understatement, Iran Open Data’s report also sheds light on the different levels of economic hardship being experienced by Iranians in different parts of the country. The Persian-language map below details province-level variations in the misery index for 1399.
Researchers found that the provinces of Hormozgan to the south, and Kermanshah, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kurdistan and Lorestan to the west, recorded the highest rates of “misery” in the country. The area least-affected by economic strife was Markazi province, followed by Mazandaran, Semnan, South Khorasan and Razavi Khorasan to the northeast.
IranWire’s Persian service has previously published a report that showed a clear link between high misery index scores and low turnout in elections. The most economically marginalized in Iran are often also among the most politically disenfranchised.
Even in provinces that did not score as badly in 1399, the situation could hardly be classed as rosy. Mazandaran province recorded a year-round inflation rate of 33 percent. For this to be the lowest inflation rate recorded anywhere in the country – the highest came in at 40 percent in a mere 12 months – is a catastrophe.
“The recording of different inflation rates in Iranian provinces,” Iran Open Data’s researchers said, “could be related to many factors, such distance from population centers, high transportation costs, or the lack of units producing basic products [to meet] household needs.”
The unemployment rate in Lorestan province in 2020-2021 officially came in at 15 percent, and 14 percent in Kurdistan, while the comparatively better-off provinces of Razavi Khorasan and South Khorasan reported local unemployment rates of just over six percent. That is to say, even by official estimates unemployment rates in western parts of Iran are twice as high as those in the northeast.
Powerful religious institutions such as Astan Qods Razavi in Mashhad see a larger amount of financial resources diverted to the north and east. Western Iran is home to many of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities and has been systematically starved of resources over the years, as well as being more vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes.
But Iran Open Data’s investigation shows that even according to the optimistic official statistics, the scale of hardship Iranians are now experiencing throughout the country has increased to an unprecedented level.