Tajikistan is the poorest country among the East European and CIS nations. It had the lowest per capita income among the same groups during the Soviet era. In earlier years, though, the Tajikistan economy was much more robust, with industry and agriculture being doubly productive than today. Furthermore, the central government of the Soviet Union used to provide Tajikistan with a significant amount of its national budgetary requirements. Despite its relatively low ranking during the communist era, Tajikistan was not poor. The population was healthy, wages were paid, and public services were fully functional. In 2001, on the other hand, due to independence and civil war related issues, Tajikistan is poor. There are limited employment opportunities, wages are low—particularly in the agricultural sector—and a variety of financial and material input necessary for proper agricultural and industrial activities is sorely lacking. Poverty in Tajikistan is also evident in the decreasing access to basic public services such as education, health care, and clean water.
Income generated from employment remains the most important source of revenue for households. Other sources of income, however, such as revenue from micro-and small businesses and the sale of food and household goods, cover equally large shares of overall household incomes. The well-to-do and poor segments of the population—and between some urban folk and the mostly rural population—exhibit clear economic divergence. Expenditures at the richest households are 4 times those of the poorest. The poorest households spend 79 percent of their budget on food. They cover most of this need through subsistence farming , some remittances from abroad, and humanitarian aid. More female-headed households are considered poor than male-headed, partially due to the facts that Tajik women tend to be less educated, have fewer opportunities for business, and work in the public health and education spheres, where pay levels are significantly lower. Due to the continuing economic crisis, at best, the government can only provide minimal real provisions for social welfare to the needy. This is difficult for a population that still remembers the Soviet-era's generally good provision of health, education, and welfare services. A 1998 survey of households and small businesses throughout the country found that when asked what type of economy they hope Tajikistan to resemble in the future, 53 percent chose the USSR.