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Demographics of the Far East: to save or not to interfere?

One of the main proposals to the national program for the development of the Far East is the adoption of emergency measures to increase the population. We are trying to figure out how justified such a task is, how much and by what means this task is realizable.

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In the past few months, the collection of proposals for the national program for the development of the Far East has entered an active phase: at the same time Studentsобщественность и experts (as the proposals are collected in general, last week wrote EastRussia). The main goal in the social part is to increase the number of the Far Eastern population, which is supposed to underlie all the components of the socio-economic well-being of the region, including its industrial development and infrastructure.  

The problem of small population of the region has been discussed at various demographic conferences for a long time, over the years dull tone does not change: as already written by EastRussia, and so far no efforts of the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East can stop this process. The decline in the population reduces the domestic consumer market, which results in a decrease in the attractiveness of the region for business, the absence of the latter deprives people of income, they leave their homeland in search of a better life. It is proposed to break this vicious circle by taking measures to increase the population. 

Of course, plans to increase the number of Far Easterners are welcome, but population density should not be considered as the main indicator of the state of the region, the decline of which leads the Far East to ruin and desolation, and its positive dynamics will certainly give impetus to regional prosperity. Most of the local problems — such as significant costs for transporting resources and finished products, a weak infrastructure network, poor organization of territory management and low transport accessibility — are not the result of a small population: for example, the population of Alaska is only 700 thousand people in the territory of 1,7 million sq. km, but there are no such problems. 

The reverse statement about the existence of a direct dependence of economic growth on population density would also be incorrect. In modern Russian practice, there are examples of both low economic development with a large population (for example, the republic of the North Caucasus) and high economic growth with a small population (Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Sakhalin Oblast). 

Of course, a large role in ensuring such growth is played by the structure of the economy, since the extractive industries require significantly fewer workers than for manufacturing. But examples of personnel difficulties encountered by large Far Eastern projects in the field of gas and petrochemical and mechanical engineering - VNHK, NZMU, Zvezda shipyard and others - show that the presence of local residents in the project area, which is populated by local standards, is rather dense , can not guarantee these projects the availability of workers with the necessary qualifications, and, therefore, is not a condition of economic growth provided by these projects.


The reasons for the massive (about 2 million people) outflow of the population from the region to 1990's are well known to economists: it was mainly due to the restructuring of the regional economy, its deindustrialization and demilitarization, with the result that military personnel, military industrial complex and their families - so the invisible hand of Adam Smith equalized the supply and demand, the demographics changed following the structure of the economy. At the present time, as production revives, replacement migration is observed: along with the loss of the indigenous population, the region actively receives migrants from the Central Asian republics, whose numbers cannot be accurately determined. 

In addition, there is a steady trend in the redistribution of the population within the Far East itself, from the northeastern subjects of the FEFD (Chukotka, Kamchatka, Magadan Oblast) to the south (Primorye, Khabarovsk Territory). The trend of population movement from poorly equipped and uncomfortable for living in terms of climatic and infrastructural factors to more comfortable regions is typical for Russia as a whole. The exceptions are places where such conditions are compensated for by the possibilities of obtaining high incomes and other benefits: in the Far Eastern Federal District it is the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), whose population has increased in recent years.  
The Far East demographic decline continues (albeit at a very different pace - several thousand people a year), its causes have long been known from numerous polls and sociological studies: this is the structure of the labor market, unfavorable for career growth; income level that does not cover the high costs of livelihoods; insufficient development of infrastructure, including social; the lack of market prerequisites for the development of a business (except for cross-border trade, which has its limitations). Elimination of these causes requires a long time and attraction of large resources of different types. 


To clarify the situation, it is worthwhile to divide the task of improving demography in the FEFD into two subtasks, different for reasons, morphology and ways to solve: an increase in the inflow and a decrease in the outflow of the population. 
Active, skilled and wealthy people, as a rule, do not travel to the Far East. The list of factors of low attractiveness of the region for migrants has long been known: remoteness from cultural centers, low quality of life, low incomes, lack of prospects, poor climate, lack of infrastructure (both production and social). In addition to the objective geographical and climatic factors with which little can be done, the main factors relate to economic factors - this is income and employment. 

The economic component of the region is growing, but the pace of this growth is still small, although they already generate a steady demand for labor. Attempting to launch the reverse process - to attract migrants to the open field, in the hope that they will somehow raise the regional economy by their efforts - will obviously be unsuccessful. If at the time of Stolypin the land was the attractor for the relocation as the main means of production, today the migrants no longer have this motive for moving, but the new one has not appeared.

Employment growth as an integral part of secondary industrialization has its own specifics. So far, in the Far Eastern labor market, construction workers are mainly in demand for new industrialization projects, as well as various kinds of managers in trade and service projects for the local economy. According to the market principles of the omnipresent Adam Smith, the emerging jobs are taken by the staff, satisfying the employer in terms of price and quality. At the same time, it is often not local people who are more preferable for business, but shift workers from other parts of Russia and migrants from Central Asia.

To preserve the local population in the region, one of the key conditions is the scale and diversity of the labor market, which, in turn, is determined by the degree of economic development. The state can stimulate investment in large industrial projects, but is unable to create a whole range of jobs for everyone. 

The outflow of young qualified specialists from the region is due to the lack of a sufficient number of jobs that would suit these people by specialization, financial characteristics and career prospects. Therefore, it is not surprising that FEFU graduates, who train not journalists and carpenters, but journalists and biologists, as a rule, leave the region - here they simply have no place to get a job. The Higher School of the Far East is not coordinated with the labor market, which leads to amusing consequences: the higher, for example, the quality of training of FEFU graduates, the greater part of them tend to leave the region, since their high career-wage expectations are not met by the existing structure of employment.

In addition to employment, the condition for the retention of the population is the elusive “quality of life”, which is not identical to the “standard of living”, which is measured by income. Quality of life is a composite indicator that includes affordability of housing, health care, education, transport mobility, ecology and culture. In this sense, the standard of living in Moscow is significantly higher than in other cities of Russia, but in terms of the quality of life, the capital does not even make it to the top ten. 


What is more important for potential migrants to the Far East - income, quality of life or something else? To understand this, a few years ago, my colleagues and I conducted a fairly large-scale (included 33 expert interviews, 22 focus groups, 4 online survey for 4000 people) researchdedicated to finding the answer to the question "Under what conditions are residents of the European part of Russia ready to move to the Far East?". 

As it turned out as a result, even residents of depressed western regions like Karelia and the Leningrad region would agree to such a step only if they were given a “social package of migrant”, including: income (on average, at least 100 thousand rubles) and promising mandatory prior contracting; the provision of preferential or free housing; interest-free mortgage; tax holidays for individuals and businesses; early retirement; good ecology and infrastructure; warm climate; bonuses for annual trips to relatives “to the west”, as well as the opportunity to return back at any time. At the same time, among the motivations for relocation with a large margin, the material factor of income was leading, he was named the main about 60% of respondents.

Obviously, such overestimated requirements were considered by respondents as over-compensation for moving to a less comfortable environment, which the Far East considers to be: as one expert remarked, “there is a persistent myth that the farther from Moscow to the east is a person, the lower he is on the steps of the social ladder. " This view is shared by residents of both the western and eastern regions of the country: the teacher of a rural school in Primorye will be upset if his students do not leave after graduating from the village to the city, preferably located in the Central Federal District or Southern Federal District. 

The main negative characteristics of the region were the remoteness from Europe, the low degree of development of the territory, the lack of career prospects, the harsh climate, high prices, the collapse of industry and unemployment. This image of the region has developed over several decades, it has both objective (economic) and subjective (communication) components. Of the positive results, a rather large proportion of respondents who perceive the Far East as a place of free enterprise and could move to the region, driven by the dream of starting their own business, are provided, provided the government removes administrative barriers and excessive control. 

The conclusions were made as follows: in current conditions one should not expect any noticeable flow of people willing to move to the eastern part of the country; to stimulate the move is not enough any budgets of the country; without improving the quality of life, indigenous people will continue to leak; public perception of the Far East as a “zone of chaos and hopelessness” harms the state development plans of the region and requires a change - for example, efforts to create an image of the “territory of great opportunities”. Recommendations to the authorities included proposals to reduce business over-regulation, invest in social infrastructure, help different categories of migrants differentially, as well as create scientific and cultural centers focused on the APR. As practice shows, they were partially implemented, but not all, and on a limited scale. 


It can be argued that the views of the average Russian citizen about what the Far East is and whether to go there have hardly changed significantly since the time of the said study. Returning to the national program, I would like to offer a few points on the quality of life and the attractiveness of the Far East. 

The low quality of social infrastructure is typical for many regions of Russia, but for the Far East it is not compensated by any other positive factors - for example, cheap food / housing / mobility, a good climate or high salaries, but rather, on the contrary, acts as a downward factor . If there is no possibility to drastically change all the components of "quality of life", then it would be worthwhile to single out one or several factors, which are easier to change towards improvement than others, and which would act as compensators for the negative influence of all the others. In Soviet times, such compensators were high salaries and opportunities for fast career growth for certain categories of specialists with Far Eastern surcharges. At present, these parameters are not: salaries in Moscow are much higher, social elevators in the region are much lower. 

Attractiveness factors for different groups of the population need to be differentiated. For people of working age with children and retirees sitting on suitcases, potential attractors are sagging social infrastructure (education and health care), the restoration of which will significantly increase the assessment of the attractiveness of a given city or village. 

For ambitious university graduates - "high-tech jobs", which over time will more arise in the field of IT, engineering, processing and transport, and housing, a lot of different types: rental, under preferential mortgage, social loans with a reduced rate, etc. . While the municipalities are fighting, trying to carve out a couple of apartments from the fund, in order to use them to lure a young doctor or teacher, the housing problem will not be solved, you need a systemic solution like the “Far Eastern affordable housing program”, with microdistrict development and supply of utilities, control of developers and housing distribution through the municipal (or regional / regional) fund. 

For visiting entrepreneurs, there is a minimum of administrative regulation, a maximum of freedom (within the limits set aside, of course), not only in the territories of priority development and the free port of Vladivostok, but also outside of them. 

Separately - about the “Far Eastern hectare”. The appearance of this unit of measurement (100 square on 100 m) looks strange: if we have 7 million square meters. km of empty land - why not give it to anyone on 100 or 1000 ha? It may make sense to differentiate applicants for land by area and purpose, since ten hectares are enough for individual housing construction, the owner of the camp site needs several tens of hectares, and it is desirable for the farmer to have several hundred, and not in many of Khasansky district, but in Khanka.

As we see, there are no quick and effective solutions for population growth, except for the utopian idea of ​​the “territorial velfer” for the fact of living in the territory, following the example of Alaska. At the expense of the national program, you can try to change the quality of life, but its level largely depends on the economy and production infrastructure - but this is a topic for another discussion.
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