Living in China: urban population exceeds 600 milion with rural income’s yawning gap

China’s urban population surged to 607 million with an urbanization rate of 45.7 percent at the end of 2008, a social researcher revealed recently.

The urban population had increased by 148 million since 2000, almost level with the rural population in the world’s most populous nation with 1.3 billion people, according to Shan Jingjing of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

In the early 1980s, the rural population accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total.

The urban surge reflected economic growth and internal labor movements, including 130 million migrant workers who left rural homes to work in the cities, said Shan, who is also vice editor-in-chief of the Blue Book of Cities in China, published by the CASS on recently.

According to the blue book, China has 118 megalopolises of more than 1 million people, and 39 such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang are super metropolises of more than 2 million residents.

Compared with the 2000 figures derived from China’s fifth census, urban citizens covered by basic medical insurance had increased 93.87 million, basic pension insurance participants increased 17.53 million, unemployment insurance participants increased 7.55 million, employment injury insurance participants increased 16.37 million and maternity insurants increased 14.06 million.

Urbanization had not narrowed income gaps. According to the blue book, the urban: rural income ratio averaged about 5 in 2008 by contrast with the gap in 2000 when the ratio was 2.79, said Wei Houkai, co-editor-in-chief of the blue book.

With rapid urbanization, China was also encountering surging challenges amid the global downturn, which has had a serious impact on the economy, the book warned.

“One of the challenges will be unemployment,” Shan said. “According to research on 15 enterprises in five provinces, job vacancies have decreased by 5.3 percent since the end of March.”

The unemployment situation would be worsened by China’s huge labor pool with an annual 15 million new job hunters and some 6 million college graduates this summer, Shan said.

According to Xinhua:

Compared with the 2000 figures derived from China’s fifth census, urban citizens covered by basic medical insurance had increased 93.87 million, basic pension insurance participants increased 17.53 million, unemployment insurance participants increased 7.55 million, employment injury insurance participants increased 16.37 million and maternity insurants increased 14.06 million.Urbanization had not narrowed income gaps. According to the blue book, the urban: rural income ratio averaged about 5 in 2008 by contrast with the gap in 2000 when the ratio was 2.79, said Wei Houkai, co-editor-in-chief of the blue book.

With rapid urbanization, China was also encountering surging challenges amid the global downturn, which has had a serious impact on the economy, the book warned.

The South China Morning Post felt that under the rather gloomy statistics (GDP growth rate dropping, sharp declines in exports and industrial output, decrease in real estate development) was something more hopeful:

Shan Jingjing , a key author, said this showed that urbanization was about to enter a period of profound adjustment.”The transformation is about replacing a quantity-first mentality with quality first,” Dr Shan said. “The transformation is about the end of the real estate development frenzy, which has been tearing down old cities and building up new ones since the late 1980s.

“The transformation is about improving a city’s functions rather than increasing its size.”

The report recommended that the government achieve sustainable development, increase investment in existing infrastructure and reducing the cost of urban living and living standards. It also asked for reform in the residential registration system, in order to grant privileges to more rural residents.

Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as Lead Product Design Strategist at SAP and promotes User Experience Design as visiting lecturer at Köln International School of Design. Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar Medeiros has helped truly global companies in several countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, United Arab Emirates, United States) create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he championed the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai

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