Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wall Street Journal: China Fears Restive Migrants as Jobs Disappear in Cities

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As we've been saying for over a year, there is great "incentive" for China's government to figure out a way to keep all these newly urbanized people employed one way or the other. If they are to succeed, we won't know until after the fact but the pressure seems to be growing. The numbers are indeed staggering - 130 Million migrant workers is nearly half the entire US population. So I ask you, Americans, - please visit your local malls and "shop til you drop" even if you don't have the money (that's what patriots do!) - and in turn we can keep Chinese migrant workers working... as thanks the Chinese government will continue to buy the U.S. debt obligations to infinity and we can continue this charade for a few more years. I mean, it's been working like a charm so far!

From the Wall Street Journal

  • Fan Junchao has spent most of the past five years living hundreds of miles from his small family farm here. Encouraged by the local government, he leased out his meager plot and worked on construction crews in big cities, making several times what he could have earned on crops. Now his construction project has been halted, and Mr. Fan has returned home. "Right now, I don't have a plan," he says. "I'm just taking it one step at a time." (with a plan like that - Hank Paulson has a job for you in Treasury) Mr. Fan is among hundreds of thousands of China's 130 million migrant workers -- known as the "floating population" -- being cast out of urban jobs in factories and at construction sites. Migrant workers -- estimated to make up a tenth of the country's population -- have powered China's economic success in the three decades since free-market reforms began.
  • China's roaring industrial economy has been abruptly quieted by the effects of the global financial crisis. Rural provinces that supplied much of China's factory manpower are watching the beginnings of a wave of reverse migration that has the potential to shake the stability of the world's most populous nation.
  • Fast-rising unemployment has led to an unusual series of strikes and protests. Normally cautious government officials have offered quick concessions and talk openly of their worries about social unrest. Laid-off factory workers in Dongguan overturned patrol cars and clashed with police last Tuesday, and hundreds of taxis parked in front of a government office in nearby Chaozhou over the weekend, one of a series of driver protests.
  • At a train station 30 miles from Mr. Fan's village, officials are keeping 24-hour tabs on arrivals to monitor how many of the surrounding area's two million migrants will return from industrial centers. Around 60,000 have already done so, they say -- and many more are expected, despite Beijing's efforts to persuade workers to stay in cities and train for potential new jobs.
  • Many of the returning workers, like Mr. Fan, have too little income from the land to support their families. Beijing has been encouraging many to lease out their farms to more profitable cooperatives -- which don't share their increased earnings from the crops with the landholders -- at the same time it encouraged their moves into the cities, by loosening rules for doing both in the past few years.
  • Others have no farms to come back to, having seen their land gobbled up by decades of previous Chinese urbanization drives, in which unscrupulous developers and corrupt officials often illegally seized peasants' land.
  • Officials in the central province of Hubei estimate that they've also had 300,000 laid off workers come home just in the past two months. In Hubei's capital, Wuhan, officials estimate that the number will eventually total 600,000 in their city alone.
  • In Fuyang, the city nearest to Shuangfu, officials tracking returnees note that it's not easy for industrial workers to return to country life or work. "These aren't the same peasants like the peasants of yesterday," says an official from the city's Human Resource and Labor Bureau, "They don't raise crops, they have skills."
  • China has roughly the same amount of farmable land as the U.S., where only 2% of workers are employed in agriculture. But China has some 730 million rural residents -- more than twice the entire American population. Between 80 million and 100 million rural residents are either completely landless or don't have access to enough land for subsistence, estimates Joshua Muldavin, professor of geography and Asian studies at Sarah Lawrence College. "The increases right now with the large-scale return of peasants could add tens of millions to that,"

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