Bangladesh has been witnessing a tremendous growth of its middle-class population over the last two decades.
However, the full potential of this driving economic force still remains untapped due to lack of investment, quality education and descent job creation, noted economists have observed.
According to them, expanding services sector, huge inflow of remittance, the robust export-based manufacturing industries, steady growth, expansion of microcredit activities, incentives and credit opportunity for enterprises and the success in controlling high birth rate and reducing poverty rate are the major reasons behind the boom of the middle-class population in the country.
Talking to UNB, former finance adviser to caretaker government Dr ABM Mirza Azizul Islam, CPD distinguished fellow Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya and executive chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre Hossain Zillur Rahman said good governance, expansion of tertiary education, infrastructure development, increasing public private investment, and proper policies are crucial to get the benefits from the growing middle-class population and thus turn the country into a middle-income one.
A study by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) showed that the number of the country's middle class has already reached 50 million in 2015.
Quoting the research findings, BIDS research director Dr Binayak Sen said the share of the middle class (who earn from $2-$13 a day) in total population rose from 7.0 per cent to 35 per cent in only two decades.
Dr Mirza Azizul Islam said the middle-class people have increased in the country over the last two decades due to the rise in per capita income as the country has been witnessing a good economic growth rate and success in birth control and cutting poverty rate since the 80s.
Besides, healthy export growth, expansion of private sector and the rise in remittance inflow are also contributing to the rise in per capita income and thus the growth of middle-class people.
The noted economist said though the middle class is considered as the driving force for higher economic growth, Bangladesh cannot expedite the progress for various reasons, including inflation, growing inequality rate, lack of investment, good governance, quality education and availability of highly-paid jobs.
He said the government should keep inflation and inequality at a tolerable level, create a proper environment for both the private and public investment, expand tertiary education, create highly-paid jobs and ensure a better management of finical institutions to achieve the government's target of turning Bangladesh into a middle-income country soon using the potentials of its population, especially the middle-class one.
Dr Debapriya said the growth of middle class is an expression of socio-economic positive change. "It came with the good per capita income. It's surely a positive socio-economic development. At the same time, it has created some new demands, such as quality education and good health and other services."
As the government cannot meet the demands of the middle-class people, he said it is leading to the outflow of resources as they are going abroad for treatment and sending their children there for quality education and jobs.
According to him, the gross purchasing power of the middle class in Bangladesh is almost $100 billion.
However, the inflation and growing prices of commodities and utilities and other essentials have been adversely affecting the lives of the middle-class people.
Hossain Zillur said though the middle-class people were the agent for positive changes in society in the past, they are losing their traditional character. "Middle-class people are now increasingly becoming self-centred. That's why they now build good houses, but don't think of the dying canal or river beside their homes."
He said the government will have to devise new strategies to use the potentials of the middle class by providing them proper education, incentives and employment opportunity.
"Necessary steps should also be taken to check inequality," Zillur, also a former caretaker government adviser.
"Inequality hurts the middle class not only in terms of income but also in availing of other social services. Quality divide in education has become the new driver of inequality. Quality education has become the preserve of the upper class only.' The same is true for quality healthcare and habitation," he added.
CPD executive director Dr Fahmida Khatun suggested a space for the middle class in the policy.
She said the government can invest in low-cost housing for the middle class or enable the private sector to do so by helping them with incentives, as house rent is the largest part of their routine expenses.