Urban Poor: China’s changing demographic

The rapid pace of urbanization in China during the past 3 decades has led to a demographic shift of unprecedented proportions. Within less than one generation, China’s population has shifted from being less than 20% urban to being more than 50% urban, resulting in the staggering addition of some 400 million people to China’s growing cities. Entire villages on the outskirts of China’s rapidly growing urban centers are being swallowed up whole along the way, creating a unique juxtaposition of rapid economic economic growth, conspicuous consumption, and new urban poverty co-exisiting side by side in an uneasy equilibrium. The significant income gap between the urban rich and the urban poor has never been more obvious.

Migrant worker families, jobless young people, single-parent families and prostitutes are among the urban poor whose needs are marginalised in this shifting situation.

Until the beginning of the 1990s, poverty in China was regarded largely as a rural phenomenon and the rural poor were the focus of anti-poverty policies. Poverty relief was confined to the small section of the urban population. The able-bodied did not qualify for relief; they were obliged to work and the government was under obligation to provide them with a job, albeit at very low pay and not immediately. But in the 1990s urban poverty came to be seen as a problem that potentially threatened a substantial percentage of the urban population. Unlike in the past, the government has not been able to provide the urban labour force with a job guarantee.

The severity of urban poverty might have been greatly underestimated, because the so-called urban population in the official statistics usually excludes two groups of people, according to the report published in the Beijing-based China Economic Times.

One is the shifting population, usually farmers moving to and among cities; the other, those living in suburban areas, who are actually living through non-farming means, but still counted as “farmers” due to their residency. The mobile population usually suffer most from the urban poverty, said the report.

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