Two days ago, the Chinese Bureau of Statistics released its most comprehensive report to date on how the economic crisis is affecting the country’s migrant worker populace. The document can be seen in its original Chinese form here: “2008 Year End Survey of Migrant Workers.”
The press release, titled “2008 Year End National Total of Migrant Laborers is 225.42 Million,” starts off by noting that “in order to fully understand the phenomenon of migrant workers returning home [due to being laid-off], the National Bureau of Statistics used the opportunity inherent in the nongmingong going home for the holidays to conduct a nationwide, 31 province, 857 county, 7100 village, 68,000 household large-scale survey.” Having laid out the bureau’s goals and methodology, it goes on to list the main findings.
According to the survey results, there are currently 225.42 million migrant laborers in China, with 140.41 million, or 62.3 percent, living outside their local township (ben xiang zhen). 37.6 percent of those who have left home hail from China’s central provinces, with 32.7 percent coming from the west and 29.7 percent from the east. Conversely, the east attracts 71 percent of migrant workers outside their ben xiang zhen, with the west attracting 15.4 percent and the central provinces attracting 13.2 percent. (Note: while the press release doesn’t define which provinces fall under the categories of “east,” “central,” and “west,” it is safe to assume that “east” refers to coastal provinces, “central” refers to all those provinces that border coastal provinces, and “west” refers to all other provinces in the Chinese interior.)
Approximately 70 million, or 50 percent of the migrant workers outside the boundaries of their local township, returned home for Chinese New Year. 80 percent of them have now re-entered the cities, with the remaining 20 percent, or 14 million nongmingong, choosing to stay at home to farm the land or seek out other forms of employment. Of those who have returned to the city, 45 million have already found work and 11 million are still searching.
In a previous post, I stated that the migrant laborers working in the manufacturing and construction sectors have been most adversely affected by the economic crisis ("China's Migrant Workers in the Wake of the Global Economic Crisis: An Overview"). This observation was based on my own (largely anecdotal) research. This survey's findings, however, provide empirical evidence to support my claim. Of all the migrant workers who returned home, 36.1 percent were previously working in manufacturing and 28.2 percent worked in construction. These numbers explain why a high percentage of those who were laid-off in the lead up to the holidays, 24.6 percent and 17.2 percent, respectively, had been living and working in Guangdong Province and the Yangtze River Delta, two areas known for their large industrial bases and rapid rate of expansion.
The final section of the press release delves into statistics that are important when assessing the socio-political implications of the economic crisis (the topic of this blog’s next post). 5.8 percent of those migrant workers who were laid-off are owed back pay and 2.2 percent of all those who returned to the countryside jobless this last holiday season have no land to farm. Among the still unemployed, the percentage of those lacking arable land rises to 6.6 percent.
As is to be expected from a press release, particularly one issued by the far from transparent Chinese government, this document was heavy on statistics and extremely light on analysis. The one analytical note it does include, however, offers significant insight into how the CCP plans to deal with the issue of migrant unemployment. Towards the end of the document, the author notes that that the lower the education level of the migrant worker, the more likely they were to fall victim to the crisis. Thus, “strengthening the training of the nongmingong will be beneficial in increasing the stability of their employment.” What, exactly, does this mean in the long-term? Look for a thorough examination in next Wednesday’s post.
From this document, it is clear that the Chinese government understands the scale of migrant labor unemployment. Now, the challenge lies in implementing policies that address the heart of the problem and prevent the outbreak of social unrest.