Fri, 31 Jan 2003

Job creation key to helping the poor

Yan Xizao, China Daily, Asia News Network, Beijing

A scholar with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security wrote in People's Daily that 20.53 million urban Chinese now live below official subsistence lines.

This resonates an earlier Ministry of Civil Affairs report that by the end of September, an estimated 19.98 million of the nation's 320 million non-farming population were in "extreme poverty."

This is the first time in decades that urban poverty has emerged as a concern of such gravity in China.

Until recently, poverty had by and large been perceived in this country as being limited to rural sectors.

Despite the persistent crusade against poverty and the resulting shrink in the scope of poverty, the number of rural poor remains high. Latest official statistics claim there are still around 30 million people unable to properly feed and clothe themselves in the countryside.

The sudden prominence of urban poverty is a by-product of recent changes in the country's economic landscape. It is in a sense an inevitable price for reforms.

By the end of September, 4.39 million were displaced from State firms nationwide, according to official statistics. But real unemployment is widely believed to be more serious.

Figures from civil affairs authorities show only 5 percent of the current urban poor qualify for traditional government assistance. In the past, government relief covered only the old, sick, or disabled devoid of working ability as well as sources of income and support.

A considerable portion of the current urban poor are newly unemployed workers.

In 2002 alone, a total of 10.5 billion yuan (US$1.26 billion) was dispensed from the State coffer to ensure all urban residents met officially designated subsistence lines of their own regions.

That did help. But the other aspect of the story is that the government has provided relief for a large number of people who, given a job, would have been able to support themselves and their families quite well. It is a waste of resources if such people are indefinitely kept from the chain of wealth creation. The waste is bigger if the government takes over the responsibility to support them, instead of helping them get re-employed.

While continuing to provide relief to the needy, the focus of our campaign against urban poverty should shift to job creation.