The shortage of working-age rural laborers is spreading from the nation's coastal areas to inland, a survey report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences shows.
Out of 2,794 villages investigated in the nationwide survey, 74.3 percent of them no longer have a surplus of young laborers as all had left for the cities for work.
Only a quarter of the villages said they had some young laborers remaining.
Although some areas were suffering from a shortage of rural laborers, the nation's overall supply of those workers was still greater than demand, the report found.
The report said the decline was a result of the nation's falling fertility rate.
Thirty years since the implementation of the family planning policy, China's total fertility rate has dropped to 1.7, lower than the "replacement level" of 2.1, the report said.
It projected that the total rural labor force would not be able to satisfy the demand from non-agricultural sectors by 2010.
Han Jun, a researcher with the State Council Development Research Center and a writer of the report, said the shrinking rural labor force could result in a new labor-management relationship.
He said the government should speed up legislation to protect workers' interests and rights and encourage enterprises to treat their employees better.
Liu Fuhe, spokesman for the State Council Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, said the so-called "shortage" of migrant workers did not really exist.
The report merely highlights a trend in worker movements.
"Some areas are short of migrant workers because they have failed to provide good enough working conditions and benefits," Liu said.
"As a result, many migrant workers voted with their feet and chose to move to work in other areas."
South China's Guangdong Province, which has witnessed a shrinking laborer workforce in recent years, had only increased the monthly wage for migrant workers by 27 yuan (US$3.50) in the past 20 years.
He suggested the governments and enterprises review their treatment on migrant workers.
"They should take actions to improve migrant workers' benefits and protect their rights so as to attract a big enough labor force," he said.
(China Daily June 23, 2007)