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1.5 Million Thais Fell into Poverty During Pandemic – World Bank

A homeless person begs at the Nana BTS station on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok in December 2020. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)
A homeless person begs at the Nana BTS station on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok in December 2020. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)

About 1.5 million Thais have fallen below the poverty line during the coronavirus pandemic as the government strangled its vital tourism industry and closed businesses for five of the past nine months, the World Bank said.

The kingdom’s impoverished population soared to 5.2 million in 2020, up 40.5 percent from 2019’s 3.7 million poor, according to a World Bank estimate released Wednesday.

Kiatipong Ariyapruchya, the bank’s senior economist for Thailand, said that number is only expected to decrease less than 4 percent this year to 5 million impoverished.

Thailand’s poverty ratio grew to 8.8 percent last year, up from 6.2 percent in 2019, according to estimates.

The bank sets the poverty line at income of 165 baht a day.

A homeless person sleeps amid her belongings and rubbish piled outside a closed 7-Eleven store in Pattaya in August 2020. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)
A homeless person sleeps amid her belongings and rubbish piled outside a closed 7-Eleven store in Pattaya in August 2020. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)

Kiatipong said the pandemic and the actions the government took to control it pummeled the labor market from March through July last year, leading to the net loss of 340,000 jobs and cut working hours by two to three hours. Meanwhile, private sector wages decreased 1.6 percent, mostly among farmers.

The labor market improved in the third quarter with the economy adding 850,000 net jobs, but working hours still came in below 2019 during November.

The World Bank figured that 2020’s gross domestic product fell 6.5 percentin 2020 but would grow four percent this year. That depends, however, on how quickly the government contains new Covid-19 outbreaks without implementing a nationwide lockdown.

If the government can vaccinate half the population by the second half of the year – unlikely given the announced inoculation schedule – growth could hit 4.7 percent in 2022 as tourism rebounds.