The Mean Salary of Cubans

Isbel Díaz Torres

A different viewpoint. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The “Mean Salary in Figures” report for 2012, published by Cuba’s National Statistics and Information Bureau (ONEI) this past June, reveals that the current average salary of Cubans is 466 pesos (CUP) a month.

This is roughly the equivalent of 20 CUC (US $22), the hard currency which affords Cubans any real purchasing power on the island (though no State employee is paid in it).

The report offers two series of statistical data. The first lists the country’s mean monthly salary per province. Here, we find out that Ciego de Avila (at 515 CUP) currently reports Cuba’s highest salary, while Santiago de Cuba (at 433 CUP) is at the bottom of the list.

The second set of statistics is considerably more interesting. It reports the mean monthly salaries of different “types of economic activities”. The results presented were:

Agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing – 513 CUP
Mining and quarry work – 566 CUP
Manufacturing industry – 466 CUP
Electricity, gas and water – 522 CUP
Construction – 580 CUP
Retail, restaurants and hotels – 376 CUP
Transportation, storage and communications – 460 CUP
Financial establishments, insurance, real estate and services for companies – 432 CUP
Garbage collection, social and personal services – 425 CUP

In this section, construction work reports the highest salaries, while retail, restaurants and hotels come out last.

Concealment Strategies

According to the report’s “methodological definitions”, the second set of indicators do not take into account incomes earned on the basis of profit distribution or other payments made to workers in cash or kind.

Nor do they include earnings in convertible pesos, stemming from certain types of payments and work incentives, which, if considered, would bring up the mean for “Retail, restaurants and hotels” ostensibly (to mention only one case).

The arbitrary and absurd use of such “categories” – wholly divorced from Cuban reality – is one of the ways in which the State conceals useful, comparative information.

The difference between the mean salaries earned in the State sector, private foreign firms based in Cuba (with Cuban employees and managers), cooperatives and the self-employed sector is the kind of information that would have been useful to us.

The average salary in regular Cuban pesos (CUP)

It would also have been interesting to find out what differences exist between that part of the population which comprises Cuba’s “cadres, leaders and officials” and all other employees (without administrative or political duties).

In addition, the statistical “mean” is deceitful in another, more basic sense. For instance, if you have nine people earning 200 CUP a month, and only one person earning 3000 CUP, your mean would be 480 CUP, an acceptable figure which conceals a significant disparity within the group.

The statistical figure that would have offered us truly revealing data is not the “mean” but the “median”, which reflects the variable which occupies the central position in a series of organized data, or, in other words, the figure around which the greatest number of values tend to cluster.

In the previous example, the median would be, accurately enough, 200 CUP – useful information, if we’re at all interested in knowing the real wages of Cubans.

Disparities Within Classes

A computer expert employed by a municipal office of the Ministry of Culture, earning a monthly salary of 345 CUP, would fall under the category of “Garbage collection, social and personal services.” The question is: who else would fall under that category? Performers who make 35,000 CUP for a single concert?

We come across a similar situation in other sectors, such as Public Health. A little over 80 percent of the employees at a State workplace in Havana (whose name I will not reveal) earns a lower-than-mean salary, while the salary of the top-earning manager is 3.3 times that of the lowest-earning employee.

That individuals holding bureaucratic, non-productive positions should earn the highest wages at State companies is not uncommon. Such are the historical distortions of Cuba’s labor system which, in this particular regard, is no different than any private enterprise system around the world.

A substantial wage increase for Cuba’s science and technology sector (3,000 CUP, on average) was recently announced. This is the result of structural changes taking place within State institutions that have been transformed into “companies.”

What Cuba’s mean monthly salary of 466 CUP probably conceals is that fact that there are a handful of people earning huge amounts of money while the immense majority is being paid miserable wages. This is something that Raul Castro himself had to acknowledge some years ago, when he stated that such salaries aren’t even enough to guarantee daily subsistence.

Not long ago, Vice-President Marino Murillo declared, before Parliament, that the administrative barriers in the way of wage payments would be eliminated next year, provided companies had the profits to pay such unregulated salaries.

So, what will become of subsidized Cuban entities that have no “profits”, such as cultural, health, garbage collection and education entities? It is reasonable to suspect that a less than decorous plan is in store for these, though this, of course, isn’t being announced.

These institutions, however, are precisely those that have earned the Cuban revolution such a “noble” image at the international level. They are also the areas referred to as “achievements of the revolution” during the recent debates surrounding the Party’s new Guidelines, when we were told cutbacks would be made in other sectors of the economy in order to maintain these.

The National Statistics Office.
The National Statistics Office.

The fact of the matter, however, is that these sectors show suspicious signs of stagnation, with the possible exception of medical services rendered abroad, while more and more conditions for the expansion of private enterprise are being slowly developed (even though officials insist that the “socialist enterprise” will be the most prevalent within the country’s economic system).

The statistics office also reports that the mean salary has been on the rise in recent years.

This information, however, is also misleading, owing to the fact that this rise in wages has been accompanied by a surreptitious rise in the price of basic products such as soap, cooking oil, rice, toilet paper, beans and others, and the elimination of a number of subsidized products.

This entails, of course, a drop in the purchasing power of the CUP which, in practice, means a drop in the salary earned by workers, who are the victims of these fluctuations, wholly at the mercy of the State.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

14 thoughts on “The Mean Salary of Cubans

  • Would you be able to comment on how much of the cash payments aren’t taken into consideration in the figures, because I know that tourists get overcharged for almost everything. Not understanding the dual currency properly will mean that they pay 1 CUC for something that might only cost 5 CUP. This would greatly impact on the figures for Retail, Restaurants and Hotels.

  • If you walk around Havana at night you’ll see that multiple generations of families share the same houses. Living in cramped conditions is why Havana is notorious for people being on the streets at all hours.

  • If a 2 bedroom apartment can cost 1000 per month and a worker paid about 500 where do they sleep in a tent ?

  • nabbey2

    I think you
    should read my diary again. Where do I say that “no State employee is paid in
    CUC”? Of course there are employees with salaries in CUC. I live in Cuba,
    remember, and I can see them in “some” neighborhoods.

    Perhaps you
    misunderstood the part where I say that this statistics given by the ONE,
    doesn’t take it account such CUC salaries.

    Any way, I
    agree with you. It’s always better to consult the primary source, than reading
    any analysis, “shady” or not.

    A question:
    “BS” means bull shit? Wow… there’s no need of that.

  • the author states that no State employee is paid in CUC…that’s BS.
    Many State employees have been receiving two-currency salaries for
    several years. I would consult the ONE report to get the facts rather than rely on this author’s shady analysis.

  • Cordobatim:

    The exact term is “mean”. I know it’s very similar to
    “average”, but are not exactly the same thing. I can’t see my text in English
    right now, so I believe perhaps it was a mistake during translation.

    And you’re right, in the example I provided, I meant the

    and I think it’s even more accurate than the
    “mode”. Perhaps another little
    mistake during the translation.

    Thanks a lot for your comments.

  • Wrong, they do so because they have access to official markets where the Special Period never happened and stills operates at a price structure of 1985, the military being the more prominent. As I commented before, what you call Castro oligarchy have little incentive to break the law, because if they get caught doing so they will lose all privileges.

    The ones who actually do what you said are NOT the top dogs, but the ubiquitous middle management

    As for the campesinos, except for some exceptions they are typically self sufficient and in many cases very wealthy as far as Cuban standards go. Is not that they grow their own food, they sell a portion of their crops at market prices and that makes them very wealthy, to the point that lots of them regularly spend leisure time in touristic resorts around the country.

  • Practically no one in Cuba lives entirely on the slave-wages paid by the state. Those very few high-level members of the Castro oligarchy who do live entirely on the wages they receive from the regime are able to do so because of gains due to likely illicit activities masked by their “official’ duties. On the other end of the income spectrum, there does exists a few ‘campesinos’ who manage to get through the month with nothing more than their government stipend but it is likely that they grow a good portion of their own food and live well below the standard of living.

  • I’m no expert in statistics, but there’s some confusion with the use of the terms “average” and “mean.” Some of it has to do with the translation.

    The author isn’t asking for the “mean” (which is pretty much the same as what is typically called “average”). She’s asking for the median, which is the center point between the extremes in a group.

    However, in her example, she seems to want what is called the “mode,” which is the largest cluster of numbers within a sample group.

  • The two currency scheme forms an economic blockade against the Cuban people, erected by the Cuban government under the Castro regime.

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  • The average salary of Cubans is a meaningless metric as long as they keep counting CUC as CUP at 1:1 rate and that basic fact won’t change until they manage to get rid of the dual currency.

    It is as simple as that.

    If you want an interesting discussion, forget about averages and take a look at the macroeconomic indices computed with the public information available (i.e. derive the household income from the GDP formula and use THAT value as average. And to make things more interesting, try to gesstimate the amount of the economy running in CUC, compound the indices again and compare the two results).

  • To the editor or translator:
    There is a mistake in the 4th paragraph, it is the Spanish version of what is mentioned in the 5th and i would recommend to have it removed. Just take a quick look at it and very interesting article!

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