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Are you 'working poor'?
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The English term "working poor" is used by more and more Chinese netizens on domestic web forums to describe their living conditions. They complain about their heavy workload and the unsatisfactory compensation they receive.

A recent online survey jointly organized by China Youth Daily and New.qq.com showed that 75 percent of 11,351 respondents considered themselves to be working poor, 12.3 percent said they were not, and the remaining 12.7 percent were not sure.

Huang Yanhua is a white collar employee working in a private company in Beijing. She classifies herself without hesitation as working poor. The 26-year-old spends a big part of her monthly salary on clothes and cosmetics. "Looking good can help me win more business opportunities," said Huang, "so even though I work hard, I am still always short of money, and I feel unhappy."

"Many of my colleagues and friends are working poor like me. We are always terribly busy at work and feel that we are just making a living, but not enjoying life," Huang said.

Nevertheless most working poor, including Ms. Huang, believe that this is an inevitable stage in career development, in spite of being uncertain about what the future holds.

Growing desire

Manuel Castells, a world renowned specialist in urban sociology, has analyzed social development in developed countries over the last three decades and has found that the increasing trend of globalization and the diversification of the labor market have resulted in the creation of a class of employee – the biggest constituent of the working poor – whose labor rights and interests and social security conditions receive far worse protection than the core of personnel concentrated in sophisticated technologies. The creation of this population is a widespread phenomenon in post-industrial society.

Liu Bo, a consultant with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that although the definition of working poor is a subjective matter, the term was naturally applied with reference to people whose priorities are CPI, income distribution and personal finance.

With reference to the reasons why hard-working but poor people feel inadequately compensated and pessimistic about the future: 60.9 percent attributed it to social pressure and excessive competition; 48.9 percent considered unrealistic professional and lifestyle goals to be a cause; 39.5 percent referred to a low starting point and lack of opportunities; 26 percent believed that working poor are overanxious for quick progress and that this undue haste often leads to feelings of failure; 24.5 percent thought an excessive tendency to conform to be a factor, and others mentioned impatience.

Wang Min, a psychological consultant, said the pressure felt by working poor is largely related to their values. "They would like to use their earning power as a means of self-realization," he said, adding that young people should set long-range goals for their professional careers.

A netizen with a web name of "wangzhe guilai" said people's aspirations rise as their salary increases, and they would work even harder in order to gratify their growing wishes.

However, 14.1 percent of respondents expressed a positive attitude towards the condition of the working poor, believing that they would derive benefit from seeming hardship.

How to escape the net

According to the survey, there are a variety of means used to move oneself out of the working poor. The respondents gave the following examples: recharging oneself or enhancing one's competitive strengths (55.7 percent); making internal adjustments to alleviate work pressure (50.4 percent); setting reasonable and attainable goals (46.5 percent); learning to adapt to society (39 percent).

12.6 percent pointed out that the society needs to be less competitive.

For people struggling in such a competitive society, the ability to face and overcome unforeseen challenges is more important in a sense than the scientific and technical knowledge they have acquired, stressed Prof. Zhou Xiaozheng from the Sociology Department of Renmin University. When seeking their first job, Prof. Zhou suggested, young people would do better to choose work they are interested in, rather than being over-concerned with salary and other material forms of compensation.

Zhou also advocated improvements in social security, which may help to provide fairer employment opportunities and to let working people feel more secure.

(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, May 12, 2008)

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