China is facing up to the fact that the correlation between poverty and crime must be addressed. China's poor have limited education and employment opportunities, a situation that forces many to turn to crime to eke out a living thereby putting the country's social stability at risk, according to a report in Outlook, a Beijing-based weekly magazine, on February 9.
The report referred to a research conducted in three inland cities – Chengdu, Chongqing and Xi'an – and proposed that more employment and education opportunities be provided for the poor.
"It's not because I am not hardworking. But I come from a poor family and I have very few options," said Xiao Chen, a 21-year-old woman from Chengdu.
Xiao Chen's father, the family's sole breadwinner, passed away in 1995, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves. They've been surviving on a minimum monthly allowance of 320 yuan (US$40) from the local government.
The minimum allowance system, established nationwide in 1993 for the urban poor, is part of China's social security scheme.
Relatives pooled their resources to put Xiao Chen through university. She graduated from Sichuan University last August but hasn't been able to find a job since.
"Only winning the lottery will change my destiny," she said.
China's widening rich-poor divide has made it increasingly difficult for its poor to lift themselves, and therefore their descendents, out of poverty.
Statistics from Chengdu authorities show that only 2.8 percent of its existing civil servants had parents who were migrant workers from the countryside; 26 percent were the average office workers, and 33.3 percent were themselves former civil servants.
Unequal education opportunities
Hu Guangwei, a researcher with the Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences, said that unequal education opportunities are to blame for the passing on of poverty from one generation to the next.
Statistics show that people with a college education earn three times more than those with primary school education, and nine times more than those without any educational qualifications.
Studies have also shown that those on the minimum allowance scheme spend 19 percent of their income on education, believing education to be a major burden.
But according to the Outlook report, many unemployed people and the migrant workers believe their children to be their only chance of dragging their families out of the poverty doldrums.
Unemployment and poverty: a vicious circle
Unemployment hampers the free movement of poor people, which means they can't go out to find work in order to change their situations.
Surplus workers from the rural areas are generally willing to do any type of work they can find. But current policies pertaining to social security for these workers are obstacles to their settling down in cities.
Many turn to crime in desperation.
According to public security agencies from Chengdu, Chongqing and Xi'an cities, crime rates among the urban poor have increased steadily in recent years, with robbery and theft cases being the most prevalent.
Hu Guangwei stressed that change must be effected on all fronts: employment schemes must be standardized, regular job fairs should be organized, a government-subsidized vocational training scheme should be instituted, and preferential tax and banking policies should be implemented for the poor.
(China.org.cn by Wang Zhiyong, February 21, 2006)