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Middle Class, Urban Poor Numbers Increasing

A growing number of Chinese will enter the ranks of the middle class in the coming decade, earning decent income and living in comfortable homes, reports the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a central government think-tank.

Within eight to ten years in central and western China, a surging number of executives, white-collar staff, entrepreneurs and intellectuals should be solidly middle class. .


“In the coming era, more farmers will move to cities and China will create more knowledge-based jobs as the country is transformed into one of the world’s leading economies,” the CASS said in a recent report on social trends.


A small but rapidly growing and influential middle class has sprouted in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou as a result of the opening and reform program implemented in the late 1970s. About 15 percent of China’s population of 1.3 billion has risen into the ranks of this group, according to the report.


People working in government and non-governmental organizations, management, technical and skilled workers and office clerks fit within the middle class, according to the report.


The report indicates that the size of China’s middle class is unsatisfactory and the proportion of farmers -- 44 percent of total population -- is too big. However, now the group is expected to spread to central and western China.


CASS research team headed by sociologist Lu Xueyi based its prediction on China’s economic development trend.


Research indicates that when per capita gross domestic product in a region has topped the 12,500 yuan (US$1,500) benchmark, the need for managers, skilled workers and executives will become more urgent.


Nine provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Fujian, have already passed the benchmark. In the next 10 years, provinces such as Sichuan, Shaanxi, Hebei and about seven others will also reach that level.


“The country should encourage the flow of urban migrants, lift barriers, and adapt to the trend,” said the report.


Despite the growing middle class, prosperity is far from universal. Tsinghua University researcher Hu Angang said that with surplus farmers and laid-off employees from state-owned enterprises flooding into major cities, the number of urban poor has been on the rise. Among those remaining in the countryside, there are about 28 million farmers still living in absolute poverty.


“China is now at a new stage,” he said. “That means winners and losers.” Winners will climb the socioeconomic ladder but losers will fall behind.


Wang Fang, 34, and his wife came to Beijing a year ago from nearby Hebei Province looking for work. He found it, delivering goods on a motor scooter for about US$150 each month. The couple left their two children, aged 7 and 5, at home with their own parents. Now Wang and his wife live in a one-room apartment that costs less than US$50 a month.


Wang’s modest earnings were enough to buy an inexpensive color television and a DVD player. But like so many others here, he knows the towering apartment buildings rise for someone else. “I will never be able to save enough money to afford an apartment,” he said. “I think only the bailing (white collar workers) can afford to buy an apartment like that.”


(China Daily August 2, 2004)


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