This past year saw a global economic crisis that profoundly affected the lives of many people in Taiwan. In its State of the Nation survey, which takes the pulse of local residents from political, economic and social perspectives, CommonWealth Magazine asked Taiwan's citizens if they expected better in 2010.
The survey found that the biggest concern among local citizens is the growing divide between rich and poor. More than 90 percent of respondents (93.4 percent) said the social problem that most worried them was the widening income gap, some 17 percentage points higher than five years ago.
In the economic sphere, 29.7 percent of respondents believed that their financial situation would improve in 2010, a 13-year high. The number of those who thought their situations would worsen plummeted to 29.8 percent, down from 56.6 percent a year ago.
Although Taiwan's unemployment rate remains high, sitting at 5.96 percent in October, the survey found that many local residents think the worst is over. The percentage of those who worried that they or their family members might lose their jobs remained high but was considerably lower than last year, while 42.4 percent of respondents were not worried about their own or their relatives' job situations, up from 29.9 percent a year ago.
White-collar Workers Feel Deprived
The survey's respondents may have rising expectations for their financial and employment situations, but those dissatisfied with the current economy (73.3 percent) far outnumber those who expressed satisfaction (20.6 percent) and concerns over the growing rich-poor divide were particularly evident, setting a record high. In 2005, 76.7 percent of respondents cited the widening income gap as a serious problem, and that number rose to 85.8 percent last year and 93.4 percent this year (see table 1) .
The widening gap between rich and poor has reached alarming proportions and must be addressed by the government. According to Ministry of the Interior figures, there are now more than 100,000 low-income households encompassing over 250,000 people, both record highs. The government has aggressively cut taxes on the wealthy, but as its finances worsen, it is not willing or able at this point to raise taxes to redistribute income. That, along with soaring real estate prices and brazen tax evasion by some of Taiwan's wealthiest citizens, have only deepened the sense of relative deprivation among salaried workers.
As to Taiwan's future, the number of pessimists and optimists both rose slightly, though pessimists (47.1 percent) still outnumbered optimists (43.4 percent). The relatively even split indicates the uncertainty Taiwan's people still feel toward the future.
In the recently concluded local government elections, the governing Kuomintang (KMT) had a worse than expected showing, and some media analysts attributed it to the controversy and concerns sparked by the administration's support for signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.