Monday, February 08, 2016

Migrant workers in China flocking back to rural areas for better quality of life, lower costs of living

A faltering Chinese economy, high costs of living and high rates of air pollution are leading migrant city workers to head back home to rural areas, where the quality of life is better, Frank Sieren reports for Deutsche Welle, Germany's state-owned international broadcaster. In China, where the economy grew by 6.9 percent last year and is expected to grow 6.5 percent this year, slower rates than in recent years, manufacturing jobs "are becoming scarcer" and highly-skilled workers "are less inclined to work in factories or on construction sites." Also, younger rural workers are more reluctant to tackle the physically demanding jobs their parents worked.

"While 40 years ago, not even 20 percent of Chinese citizens lived in the city, today the number has risen to 50 percent. By 2020, it is expected to rise to 60 percent," Sieren writes. "For the first time in 30 years, the number of internal migrants in China sank last year—by about six million. To a certain extent, this is due to the country's demographic development—there are simply fewer migrant workers because of lower birthrates. In addition to this, the Chinese government has also acknowledged that a two-class society has emerged in the huge metropolises of China because of the hukou system which requires each citizen to be registered in a family register and makes moving within China illegal. A sort of caste system has come about in cities, turning internal migrants into second-class citizens who often have no access to social services, healthcare or schools for their children." (Advisor Perspectives graphic)
Another reason for rural migration is that the government has made a conscious effort to support "development of rural infrastructure and rural investment loans," Sieren writes. "This year, per capita income in rural areas is expected to exceed 10,000 yuan ($1,500) for the first time—a faster increase than urban per capita income. Many people are returning to rural regions because of cheaper rents, proximity to relatives, as well as access to unadulterated, unspoiled food."

In Western China, the central government "is supporting the idea of 'rural start-ups' more than ever," Sieren writes. "Some 40,000 people returning to the southwestern province of Sichuan have registered new businesses. This is not a bad means of opening up new growth opportunities for the Chinese economy and strengthen domestic growth."

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