Until recently, SA’s emerging black middle class was hailed as the sign of a new, deracialised postapartheid economy. But research shows the stable middle class may be much smaller than previously thought.
Statistics SA has found that 55% of South Africans are poor, unable to meet their most basic needs. This means only about 45% of the population are not poor. Not being poor is an inadequate indication that the same will be true in the near future. Many people who are not poor are in precarious economic situations. Our research shows almost one in two South Africans who are not poor are at risk to falling into poverty.
Being in the stable middle class is not only about location in the literal middle of the income distribution: it means being free from poverty, not only today, but also tomorrow. It is about the freedom and stability to engage in mid-and long-term planning. It is about access to opportunities to move ahead in life, and about the financial cushion that enables risk-taking and protection against shocks.
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