To put this topic in perspective, I’ll start by talking about poverty in the United States.
Business Insider says that 45 million Americans lived in poverty in 2009, which saw the largest single year increase in the U.S. poverty rate since the U.S. government began calculating poverty figures back in 1959.
U.S. household participation in the food stamp program has increased 20.28% since last year, and in June, the number of Americans on food stamps surpassed 41 million for the first time.
One of every six Americans is now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.
More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the U.S. government health care program designed principally to help the poor, and 20% of children now live in poverty.
The poverty in China you will now read and/or see is not unique. Poverty is a global challenge.
In fact, the World Bank says the poverty rate in China fell from 85% in 1981 to 15.9% in 2005, while in India, 421 million live in poverty.
In this 2007 video, Al Jazeera reported that 150 million people left rural China to find jobs in the country’s rapidly growing cities.
On the outskirts of Shanghai is an illegal shantytown built by migrant laborers. Most migrant laborers are farmers who left their land to find work in the city.
The migrants in this Al Jazeera report collect debris from construction sites, which they sell to recycling centers. Even though these workers earn little, it is more than double what they earned at home.
However, the narrator “does not” mention that on the farm, there may not be much money to buy luxury goods but the home they lived in was rent-free and as farmers, they grew enough food to feed themselves.
The World Bank says that one percent of the world’s population survives by collecting valuable trash and debris as the men depicted in the Al Jazeera video do to earn enough money to survive.
Trash collecting represents the first tenuous step to escape the poverty of rural China.
Professor Shi Ming-zheng, Director of NYU in Shanghai, says the urban people have mixed feelings about the millions of migrant workers flooding into the city to improve their lives.
He says, “On one hand, the urban people feel the migrants are necessary to provide cheap labor. On the other hand, they also despise them because they come from uneducated, poor rural backgrounds.”
For most migrant labors, the only hope for the future is with the children and education is the key.
In fact, China’s government sees the importance of raising the education levels of children so they become useful people for China.
But, according to Al Jazeera, of China’s 20 million migrant children less than half attend school.
Part 2 of “China Moving” will focus on what happens in the countryside when so many people left to find work in the cities.
Learn more about The Urban-Rural Divide in China.
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