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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Incomes Are Rising Faster Than Wages

It could just be clever accounting. But it might be shrewd investing; or even old-fashioned black-marketeering; or some combination of all three.

Whatever the reason -- or reasons -- real incomes across the nation are growing faster than real wages, meaning that Russians are getting wealthier from sources other than their official paychecks, new State Statistics Committee figures show.

A senior committee official said Tuesday that the trend was first noticed at the beginning of the year, but its origins remain unclear.

Real disposable incomes in the first nine months of the year grew 13.3 percent over the same period in 2002, while real wages grew 9.1 percent, meaning that the ratio of incomes to wages has flipped -- last year real incomes rose 5.6 percent, while real wages rose 15.7 percent.

Economists say the 2002 figures represent the move by companies to legalize salaries after the introduction of the flat, 13 percent income tax rate in 2001.

"The new trend first appeared in January or February, and is probably a result of everything from dividends to the growth of gray incomes or even currency exchange rates," the committee official said on condition of anonymity.

"It probably has to do with changes in gray schemes for paying salaries, possibly through bank deposits," the official said, adding that committee data shows that bank deposits about doubled during the period.

At the end of September, the average per capita monthly income was 5,040 rubles ($168), while the average salary was 5,546 rubles.

The growth of both figures coincided with healthy growth in the economy as a whole. In its first estimate for January-September, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said Tuesday that gross domestic product grew 6.5 percent over the same period last year.

"The results are generally good, but given that GDP growth rates always seem to slow down in the fourth quarter, the year-end figure will be lower," said Alexei Moisseyev, economist at Renaissance Capital investment bank.

The government's official growth forecast for the year is 5.9 percent, up from 4.3 percent in 2002.

What is not clear, however, is how this growth is distributed -- whether a bigger economy means a smaller percentage of people living in poverty.

While the state's official statisticians remain puzzled over the meaning behind the real income figures, several economists urged them not to bother, since their numbers do not reflect the whole picture.

For example, the statistics committee counts money spent buying currency, but does not count money gained from currency sales, said Christof R?hl, the World Bank's top economist for Russia.

In addition, since the 1998 crisis, when the ruble lost most of its value, wages have grown faster than GDP.

"The growth in wages can be expected to converge with the GDP growth rate," R?hl said, adding however, that as this happens it will cut down the benefits currently enjoyed by average wage earners.

This tendency can already be seen. While real wages have grown 9 percent this year through September, they grew 15.7 percent during the same period last year.

The committee also said Tuesday that unemployment at the end of September was unchanged on the month at 7.7 percent of the workforce, or 5.52 million people.