Ordinary North Koreans are lucky to earn US$30 a month, but senior state officials easily make more than $100 a day from endemic corruption, a survey by the Chosun Ilbo and Center for Cultural Unification Studies shows, after interviewing 100 North Koreans living in the Chinese border areas of Dandong and Yanji earlier this year.
Ninety-eight of them said there is a huge gap between the rich and poor in North Korea. The North Koreans said the collapse of the state rationing system and growth of the black economy have enabled those in power and successful traders to amass fortunes, while ordinary people who have been unable to adjust to these changes often barely have enough to eat.
One woman from Pyongyang said “Ten percent of the public is rich, 10 percent are middle class and almost 80 percent are poor.”
The majority said that the gap is most apparent when it comes to the bare necessities. “Poor people can barely afford to buy new shoes no matter how hard they work and don’t have the money to buy pork, which costs W30,000 per kilogram,” a woman from North Pyongan Province said.
Food aid provided by the UN usually ends up in the hands of party and military officials. Forty-three of the North Koreans who took part in the survey said party officials wield the greatest power in the North, and 41 percent said party officials in charge of overseeing Pyongyang’s overseas businesses are the most powerful.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s Hwanghae Province on the impregnable border with South Korea is said to be at least half a century behind Sinuiju bordering China in the North. A man from Hwanghae Province described the difference between the two regions as “like night and day.” “After we supply crops to Pyongyang, we end up starving,” he added.