[2921] A map of East Malaysian districts based on the 2019 median household income

So, I have managed to complete the map for Sabah and Sarawak yesterday after posting the map summarizing median income across Peninsular Malaysia at the district level. Here it is:

Some rights reserved. Creative Commons. By Attribution. By Hafiz Noor Shams

Just like the immediately previous post, these districts are colored based on the median household income, based on data from the 2019 Household Income Survey.

Out of 67 districts:

  • 20 districts have median of less than RM3,000 per month
  • 26 districts between RM2,999 and RM4,000 per month
  • 13 districts between RM3,999 and RM5,000 per month
  • 5 districts between RM4,999 and RM6,000 per month (Kuching, Samarahan, Miri, Penampang, Putatan)
  • 2 district between RM5,999 and RM7,000 per month (Kota Kinabalu and Labuan)
  • 1 district between RM6,999 and RM8,000 per month (Bintulu)
  • None with RM8,000 per month and above

This map is a bit of a challenge to me because unlike Peninsular Malaysia where I pretty much know almost all of the districts and their location, I could not immediately locate many of Sabah and Sarawak districts immediately.

Sarawak especially has complicated divisions, districts and subdistricts. The subdistricts threw me off a bit and I had to spend a little bit more time to draw Sarawak.

And a few notes:

  • Kuching has a spillover effect on neighboring districts. But I had expected Kuching to be more prosperous from median perspective. At least a green, but it is not.
  • Bintulu has the oil and gas effect, just like in Terengganu.
  • Miri gets a spillover effect from Brunei (and O&G)
  • Kota Kinabalu (and Labuan) is an exceptional prosperous city amid a state of reds.

[2920] A map of Peninsula Malaysian districts based on the 2019 median household income

This is something that I have always wanted to see but I do not think I have seen them in the media. So, I decided to do it myself.

This is a map representing the median household median income for all Peninsular Malaysian districts, based on data from the 2019 Household Income Survey.

Some rights reserved. Creative Commons. By Attribution. Hafiz Noor Shams.

Out of 90 districts:

  • 3 districts have median of less than RM3,000 per month (all in Kelantan)
  • 29 districts between RM2,999 and RM4,000 per month
  • 24 districts between RM3,999 and RM5,000 per month
  • 16 districts between RM4,999 and RM6,000 per month
  • 9 districts between RM5,999 and RM7,000 per month
  • 3 districts between RM6,999 and RM8,000 per month (Klang, Johor Bahru, Kulai)
  • 6 districts RM8,000 per month and above (KL, Putrajaya, Gombak, Petaling, Sepang and Hulu Langat)

There are a lot of reds in the map but it is worth to remember, the map is not weighted by population. There are much more people living in the non-red districts than in the red ones.

On another point, Terengganu offers a contrast to the red-orange Peninsular east coast.

I used a Wikipedia map as the base and then colored it based on 7 income classifications I made. I have not done the same for Sabah and Sarawak because… the number of administrative districts there is humongous. And it took me about an hour to do this map alone.


[2858] Household income growth and Malaysian unhappiness

Some opposition politicians and supporters are prone to exaggerate when it comes to economic matters. Malaysia is bankrupt, there is no income growth, etc.

Those exaggerations make it easy for the Barisan Nasional government to disprove those allegations. But in its eagerness to do so, the government oftentimes denies that any problem even exists. This is unfortunate because the exaggerations are based on real worries on the ground. And the worries are based on real problems.

This is true when it comes to income growth of Malaysian households.

The Department of Statistics recently published its 2016 Household Income Survey, showing Malaysian households experienced average yearly income growth of 6.8% in 2015 and 2016.[1]

Minister at the Economic Planning Unit, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, pounced on the fact there was income growth and that the growth was faster than the inflation rate. He said “this debunks the popular notion that income in Malaysia is stagnant or income increment does not match the rising price of goods and services.”[2]

While he is right about income growth, he does not quite address the cause that made so many Malaysians ready to believe in the opposition’s allegation. And that cause is decelerating income growth.

Yes, income rose. But it did not rise as fast as it used to be. This I think is one of the sources of Malaysian unhappiness.

While household income grew 6.8% yearly on average in the 2015-2016 period, this is dramatically lower than the 12.4% average yearly expansion experienced in 2013 and 2014. Indeed, it is lower than growth in 2010-2012:

The drop was felt by Malaysians regardless of exaggerations. GDP growth was not doing well either in 2015 and 2016.

I drew the chart based on 15 household income surveys conducted by the Department of Statistics since 1979. There were earlier surveys but it covered Peninsular Malaysia only. Sabah and Sarawak were covered beginning 1976. I chose 1979 as the starting point because I had trouble getting CPI data up to 1976.

(I have to add for clarity, in the 1980-1984 period for instance, it means nominal household income grew more than 10% on average yearly, not that income grew more than 10% between 1980 and 1984. Huge difference between the two.)

As a side note, this chart probably explains why Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became so deeply unpopular, despite starting out so well. Abdullah was the Prime Minister from 2003 to 2009 and income growth during his years was terrible by Malaysian standards. And 1997-1999 were years of unrest in Malaysia, coinciding with the Asian Financial Crisis.

I am not going into the debate whether the 2010-2014 growth and subsequent 2015-2016 slowdown were due to the government or external factors. But the stark slowdown is real and it goes a long way explaining why Malaysians are so unhappy now. Well, partly, because there are other factors out there that include among others, the GST and those private accounts at Ambank.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedMohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedMohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — The Department of Statistics actually reported the average growth as 6.6% yearly, not 6.8%. The 6.6% is calculated by using natural log. Given the context of the publication, I find the use of natural log as inappropriate and prefer to use compounded growth formula instead, which gives out 6.8% growth. What is the context? Percentage growth. Malaysian household income grew to MYR5,228 in 2016 from MYR4,585 in 2014. Using 6.6% as the growth rate in this context (MYR4,585*[1+0.66]^2) will not get you MYR5,228. But 6.8% will. The 6.6% figure would be right, if the Department had stated it was measuring the log difference, instead of percentage growth. Yet, the context is percentage growth, not log difference. I see the press keep on using the 6.6% in the wrong context.

[2] — “In terms of real value, median monthly household income grew at 4.4 percent, which means the Malaysian household income grew faster than the inflation rate of 2.1 percent for the past two years. This debunks the popular notion that income in Malaysia is stagnant or income increment does not match the rising price of goods and services,” he added. Abdul Rahman said for the overall incidence of poverty, it had improved from 0.6 percent in 2014 to 0.4 percent in 2016. [Bernama. Minister: Household income statistics show strong GDP benefits people. Malaysiakini. October 10 2017]

Economics Society

[2807] Break-up the Bumiputra category into finer details

Race politics dominates Malaysia and our deplorable politics have us Malaysians as Bumiputras, Chinese, Indians and others.

At the center of it all is Malay politics. Yet, public statistics on Malay welfare are imprecise. This is true for household income and expenditure surveys conducted and published by the Department of Statistics. The surveys are the most comprehensive snapshots we have on the welfare of Malaysian households.

It is imprecise because the best we have to describe Malay welfare are not Malay statistics, but Bumiputra statistics.

The way the statistics is presented (or even measured) strengthens the flawed notion that the Bumiputras are Malays. Yet, we know the Bumiputras comprise not just the Malays but also the Orang Aslis in the Peninsula, and the Borneo natives.

Foreigners in particular are guilty of this but more unforgivably, so do the locals. When ethno-nationalist Malays want to back their point with hard data for instance, they would go to the household surveys and cite the Bumiputra figures as proofs, casually suggesting all Bumiputras are Malays with no hesitation as if there is nothing wrong with the statistics.

Our contemporary politics also means the recognition is not merely a pedantic concern. Sarawak parties especially are becoming increasingly important nationally, possibly convincing the federal government to spend more money there.

How can this be relevant? For example, I would like to know change in welfare of those Borneo native households as federal spending increases. It is not enough to claim they would do better because of the spending. We need data and it is certainly not enough with the Bumiputra net cast so widely.

So, as far as the category Bumiputra is concerned, I think it should be broken into its finer components to allow us to see exactly the state of various groups’ welfare.

After all, is it not ironic that for all the centrality of Malay politics, statistics on Malay welfare is not available on its own? We can know the income of the median Chinese and Indian households but we cannot know the median for Malay families. To belabor the point, what we know instead are Bumiputra statistics, which are at best a proxy to the state of the Malays. And we know it is a proxy because we know the Malays make-up the majority within the group. How big a majority? Interesting question, is it not?

And we also know how mean and median behave mathematically. Change in population will change both easily.

I have a lingering suspicion that the Malays are doing better than the reported Bumiputra average/median. My suspicion is based on the fact most Malays live in the Peninsula while the statistics show the Peninsula as a geographic group does better than the Malaysian Borneo (even when certain states such as Kelantan can do worse than Sarawak). The only way to conclusively address the suspicion is to look at the Bumiputra components cleverer than what we have been doing so far.

At the very least, regardless of my suspicion, improvement in reported welfare statistics with the Bumiputra category split into its constitutions can lead to better public debates and better policies. Without the split, we are forever condemned to debate from imprecise premises.


[2779] Household income distribution from HIS 2014

The Department of Statistics has just released the 2014 Household Income Survey. I feel the survey is more comprehensive than the last one, although there are still a few improvements I would like to see made.

Anyway, with the release, I thought I should update an old chart I drew some time back.

Here is the latest household income distribution according to income brackets. One household comprises of 4.3 persons.

2009-2014 income distribution by income groups

I will not go deep into it at the moment but I am bit curious at the strength of income growth since 2012. Specifically, I am thinking of the pace at which share of the lower brackets has come down since the last survey.

I am less puzzled by the 2009 level because a recession happened that year. Growth tends to be stronger post recession, versus other times, under normal circumstances/recovery.

I am thinking of correcting the charts for inflation later. Maybe that would make the three-survey comparison better and make the distribution less surprising.

Yes, I know that the media has reported earlier that the median has grown to RM4,858 in 2014 from RM3,262 in 2012. But it was only after I saw the graphical representation that I realized how strong the growth was, which in turn, made me skeptical.

If you are interested in the full spectrum of the 2014 household income distribution, here it is:

HIS 2014 full income distribution by income groups