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Cities Urged to Open Wider to Migrant Workers

A senior researcher with the State Council, or the central government, has called on cities to allow more rural people to take up residence in a bid to promote urbanization and maintain the country's fast economic growth.

Urbanization will help drive the economy and improve the people's living standards, says Han Jun, head of the Development Research Center under the State Council. His signed article was published by People's Daily on Friday.

It's expected that some 289 million rural people, equivalent to the entire total population of the United States, will move to cities over the next 15 years.

He estimates by 2020, 57 percent of China's population will live in urban areas. By that time 828 million will be living in cities, whereas in 2002 urban dwellers numbered 326 million.

The researcher calls on the government to explore ways to help improve social security problems facing rural migrant laborers, who account for 46.5 percent of the workforce in second (or industrial production) and service industries, according to the nation's fifth census in 2000.

Migrant workers make up as much as 80 percent of the total workforce in the construction sector, the census showed.

Despite their contribution to urban economies, rural laborers have difficulties settling down in cities due to a lack of permanent housing and stable incomes, Han says.

He acknowledges that rural workers face restrictions finding permanent employment and enrolling their kids in city schools. Han says this is because of the country's decades-old household registration system, which makes it hard for rural or migrant workers to integrate into urban society.

If these problems aren't solved, Han warns, it will be more difficult for the government to handle issues relating to the country's agriculture and rural economy.

He believes more should be done to create job opportunities for rural laborers in order to raise their income and protect their legitimate rights. This, says the researcher, will allow for a more "harmonious" urban society.

Farmer peasants make up about 70 percent of China's population of 1.3 billion but agriculture contributes only 15 percent to the country's gross domestic product.

Experts also point to the widening income gap between rural and urban residents, as an average farmer makes only a third as much as his urban counterpart.

The National Bureau of Statistics said that average incomes for China's farmers rose 6.8 percent in 2004, the biggest increase in seven years. Yet the average income for farmers stood at just 2, 936 yuan (US$355) per person, while the national average annual income exceeds US$1,000.

(Xinhua News Agency November 18, 2005)

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