José I. Duarte
Last year, Macau reported one of the highest gross domestic products per capita in the world. The slowdown in gambling revenue not withstanding, the average Macanese resident is becoming richer. But GDP tells us the value of production created within the borders of Macau, not the amount of income actually received by its residents. So let us use the more appropriate indicator, national income. In simple terms, it picks the GDP figure, adds income earned by residents outside of Macau and deducts income earned by non-residents in Macau.
If we take the national income per capita, the average resident earned 586,681 patacas last year; that is, the equivalent to 48,890 patacas per month. That is an increase of 14 per cent relative to the previous year, the gambling crisis notwithstanding. And it was more than four times higher than the figure scored in 2003, the last year before the new casino era. Even accounting for inflation, these figures are telling us that the average resident is much richer today than before the gambling boom. So should we rejoice and open the champagne bottle?
Other indicators refuse to align prettily with this cheerful picture. To start with, the government keeps promising the construction of social housing, in the tens of thousands of units. How that is reconciled with a much wealthier population is, at least, slightly puzzling. As far as I am aware, a clear rationale, based on factual data about the composition of the Macau population and the distribution of income, has yet to be produced. So, those promises, attractive as they may be to those who may actually need (or can pretend to be eligible for) such flats, is difficult to square with the income figures.
Then comes this idea that Hengqin Island is waiting for the residents of Macau, something that has already resulted in noticeable price rises across the border. We must be talking about significant numbers, expectations big enough to affect the market next door. Macau residents, the richer they become the more they look for cheaper accommodation, further away? If such is the case, this is quite unusual behaviour. Unless we believe that residents have suddenly fallen in love with the island the suspicion must be that many are feeling pushed away from Macau by rising and increasingly unaffordable housing.
Moreover, circumstantial evidence suggests that increasing numbers of people are looking for support by charities, be it for food or accommodation. In a turn of events with an almost funny flavour, a well-known local association that runs a comparatively cheap restaurant for its associates has apparently suspended the admission of new members due to excessive demand for those services.
It is not easy to reconcile the stated statistical average with the perceived social average. Hopefully, these apparent inconsistencies spur the statistical department to publish more detailed data on the distribution of income.
José I. Duarte