05/04/2021, 16.23
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China's migrant workers down by five million, out of work and older

The economic crisis In 2020 cut the number of domestic migrants to 285.6 million. Size of population in non-working age is up. Employment rose in 2021, but future trends are negative.


Beijing (AsiaNews) – The number of Chinese migrant workers who moved from the countryside to the cities fell by more than five million in 2020, down to 285.6 million, due to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the aging population, the first decline since 2008, China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported.

The coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan (Hubei) in early 2020, slowing China's economic growth to +2.3 per cent over the previous year. As a result, domestic migrants stayed home because of travel restrictions and fewer employment opportunities in the more prosperous eastern provinces.

The crisis in the construction, hotel and catering sectors played a key role in this, but so has an aging population. Increasingly there are fewer young people of working age.

Between 2019 and 2020 the average age of domestic migrants rose from 40.8 to 41.4 years. In 2008 it was 34 years. Those aged 16 to 30 years old fell to 22.7 per cent; in 2019 they were 25.1  per cent; a decade ago they were 42  per cent. By contrast, from 2010 to 2020 the share of the migrant population over 50 years of age doubled to 26.4 per cent.

On 27 April, the Financial Times reported that China's population fell below 1.4 billion in2020, the first drop in 60 years. The British paper claims that it obtained the figure from official sources. Chinese authorities have denied this, but they have not yet released the actual data, fearing, some experts say, its effects on public opinion.

Regional statistics show that births are falling. For this reason, China’s central bank, the People Bank of China, has recommended scrapping restrictions on the number of births. Without such action the country will lose its economic edge over the United States.

In the first quarter of 2021, the number of domestic migrants grew by 42 per cent, reflecting the low number recorded between January and March 2020.

According to several observers, however, the rebound will not be long-lasting. The ageing of the population is now a reality and will affect internal labour trends. However, this will not be reflected in official unemployment data since the government only counts “urban” workers, excluding migrant workers who move to cities without changing their official residence.

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