A higher poverty line will see more people falling under it, but the task has changed from only helping the abject poor with basic needs of food and clothing to assisting low-income rural villagers to improve their living standards.
China adopted a unified poverty line of 1,067 yuan per annum ($156) at the end of last year for both the destitute and low-income population, up from 785 yuan for the impoverished and 865 for low-income residents in 2007.
Based on the consumer price index for 2008, the figure has been increased to 1196 yuan this year, taking the total number of people eligible for State poverty-alleviation aid to 40,07 million from less than 2 million in 2007.
Still lower than the World Bank's poverty line of $1.25 a day, the adjustment marks a change in the conception of poverty alleviation that goes beyond keeping destitute people fed and clad.
Behind this change is the great progress the country has made in the past three decades: developing from a poor nation to the world's third largest economy in terms of gross domestic product (GDP).
Given the fact that China's per capita GDP is still very low, this adjustment is particularly meaningful to those still mired in abject poverty.
They will certainly receive more help not only to shake off miserable deprivations but also to substantially improve their standard of living.
So will low-income residents.
Greater efforts to increase their income and facilitate their capacity to help themselves will increase consumer spending.
The need to increase domestic consumption in order to offset the impact of the financial crisis is actually an opportune moment to make even greater efforts in poverty alleviation. And its stimulus package has involved increased input in rural infrastructure, housing and environment.
Yet, a higher poverty line does not mean an easier job.
The income of poverty-stricken villagers was 50 percent of the average income of rural residents in 1986 and just 20 percent two years ago. The widening gap owes to the poor state of natural conditions for the most destitute population in some remote areas.
And it is also because some who shook off poverty with the help of poverty alleviation programs have relapsed into it in the wake of natural disasters.
The incidence of natural calamities is five times higher in the most poverty-stricken areas than elsewhere.
All this means the smaller the poverty-stricken population becomes the more difficult the task will be to improve its conditions.
Maybe less progress will be made with more spending.
The central government has promised that it will continue to raise the poverty line in the coming years to further strengthen the capacities of the impoverished.
And the target has been set for average rural residents to double their income by the year 2020.
Only when the fruits of rapid development have been more equally shared can the country build itself into a well-off and harmonious society.
(China Daily March 23, 2009)