OPINION

Everyday statistics

Empirical claims on poverty, which are based on firsthand observation, are usually met with a wall of skepticism on the part of political officials. The latter tend to assume, with varying degrees of confidence, that unofficial statistics are distorted by emotions. Empirical observations, they say, are prone to hyperbole and dramatization. As a result, they are smug and complacent and ready to dish out the good old metaphors “We can see light at the end of the tunnel” or “We are out of the woods.”

On the other hand, the data published by ELSTAT, the country’s national statistical service, cannot easily be discarded as the product of naive sentimentalism.

ELSTAT puts together all those personal stories out there and turns them into clear mathematical figures. These figures serve simultaneously as neutral records and urgent warnings. It is these figures that provide the guidelines for national and European programs, as well as partisan strategies. It is these figures that make the government ask its European peers to show greater solidarity (which is, after all, their institutional obligation) or to inform its foreign creditors that “society is near breaking point.”

No one can dispute ELSTAT when it reports that more that 23 percent of the Greek population were at risk of poverty (that is 914,873 households or 2,535,700 people) in 2012. And it’s hard for politicians to insist that “the climate is improving” when faced with the fact that more than 900,000 households were deemed to be running the risk of falling beneath the poverty threshold in 2012 – which is currently an annual income of 5,708 euros per person.

Note that, according to ELSTAT, this does not include population groups which are known to be poor, such as the homeless, undocumented immigrants, and members of the Roma community.

If one were to focus on the “risk-of-poverty or social exclusion index,” the rate would be even higher, at 34.6 percent of the population.

The more optimistic among us would really like to believe that, yes, our big sacrifices have finally started to pay off. However, the headline on the front page of Kathimerini on Sunday feeds the pessimism that Christmas this year will be even gloomier than last year or the year before that: “One million workers owed backpay.”

It’s quite sobering to think that those people are neither considered at risk of poverty nor unemployed according to the official statistics.