06/14/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Rural incomes failing to keep up with rising urban incomes

Labour and Social Security Ministry data show that urban residents' incomes rose by 14.6 per cent compared to only 6.2 per cent for rural residents.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Urban residents' incomes are continuing to rise with the economic surge, according to official data released this week, but there is little evidence the impressive economic growth is benefiting rural residents.

In a joint report released on Monday, the Labour and Social Security Ministry and the National Bureau of Statistics said the average annual income for urban residents on the mainland jumped 14.6 per cent to 18,364 yuan last year compared to 6.2 per cent or  3,255 yuan in rural areas, this despite the mainland's recorded 9.9 per cent growth in gross domestic product and recent high-flown pledges made by the People's National Congress to improve farmers' situation.

Although food and housing costs in rural areas are far lower than in urban centres, when factors such as social security and medical care are taken into account, the People's Republic tops global rankings in rural and urban disparity.

Only about 6 per cent of the country's 900 million rural people have access to the national social security scheme.

For Mo Rong, a vice-director of the Ministry's Institute of Labour Science Studies, the central government has to break down barriers between rural and urban residents if it was to narrow the income divide. "The key [to narrowing the disparity] is to create more non-agricultural jobs for rural people," Mr Mo said.

A People's Bank of China report last month showed migrant workers—mainly rural farmers who have given up farming to work in cities—earned an average of 8,520 yuan last year, less than half of annual income for urban dwellers.

This gap is further exacerbated by limited access to social security, medical care and other benefits, which in turn fuels social protest.

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