09/02/2020, 00.00
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Despite the lack of jobs, Chinese migrants do not want to leave the cities

Due to the coronavirus, rural areas where migrants come from offer few opportunities. Survey shows that 58.84 per cent want to stay in the cities even if their children do not have access to local schools. In cities, migrants can earn on average US2 compared to S0 in rural areas. The authorities present contradictory data.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Despite the negative effects of the coronavirus on employment, migrant workers want to stay and live in cities.

A study released on Sunday by the Beijing Social Work Development Centre for Facilitators found that migrants workers see no opportunities in the rural areas where they come from and hope for access to better educational and health services in the cities.

According to the Beijing-based institution, more than 63 per cent of respondents say that rural areas do not offer enough job opportunities to survive; during the financial crisis of 2007-2008 the figure was 35.3 per cent.

The pandemic crisis has hit China’s rural migrant workers, about 290 million, the hardest. They represent about a third of the country’s labour force, and have made a vital contribution to China's economic miracle over the past 30 years. Despite this, they do not have full rights.

Even though they may have lived in cities for years, they are still formally residents of their villages of origin. This means they have limited access to city hospitals, and their children cannot attend local high schools.

The existing household registration system (hukou) denies them access to social benefits since they are determined by official residence, not where people actually live.

Fully 58.84 per cent of survey respondents said they would stay in the city no matter what happens to have access to better education for their children; this is well above the 22 per cent who said so the same in another survey carried out by the same organisation during the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

For the government, the system restricting migrant workers’ rights is needed to contain welfare costs.

The inability to obtain residency in urban areas, combined with the lack of work and the cut in wages due to the pandemic, have made life in the city increasingly difficult for those who have moved from the countryside. However, this has not yet driven them to "home".

Another important factor is income. Per capita income in rural China has been declining since 2014. China’s National Bureau of Statistics estimated that in 2018 a migrant could earn just over 3,700 yuan (US$ 542) per month in cities. By comparison, rural incomes averaged 1,023 yuan (US$ 150).

The findings are different from the data reported by state TV (CGTN), which recently said that as the end of July provincial governments had created 13 million jobs for migrants returning from the big cities.

The data cited by the CGTN is also contradicted by the Ministry for Human Resources and Social Security. On 8 August, the latter reported that 178 million migrant workers lived in cities at the end of June, about 97.3 per cent of the level reported for the same period last year.

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