What is a Migrant Worker?
Each person in China has an identity card called a hukou 户口。 This identity card is created when you are born and is quite difficult to change. If you are born in a large city then great, you are lucky. If, however you are born in the countryside, then it is near impossible to change your hukou to one in a city.
Thanks to the country’s hukou residential permit system, those born in the rural areas are disadvantaged when compared with those born in cities…
Most of the country’s second-generation migrant workers were born in the 1980s and 1990s. Without farming experience and eager to be part of the city, they strive not only to make a living, but also to be accepted by the society they live in. They want a fairer, more decent and more respectful lifestyle than that of their countryside parents. source
Why are Migrant Workers Needed in Cities?
Cities like Beijing are growing very quickly. Beijing needs construction workers, but as well need a slew of low cost workers to do the jobs that local Beijing residents need but are unwilling to do. These jobs are fulfilled by the never ending supply of migrant workers.
Implications for Migrant Workers
Like illegal workers in a foreign country, migrant workers are tolerated but are still technically illegal. Any run-ins with police might result in their removal from the city, thus, people may tend to not cooperate with police. This makes them a target for unscrupulous business owners, who may pay them a cut rate, or even not pay them at all.
The municipal authorities have denied the most recent sweep targets the so-called low-end population of migrant workers and their families, insisting the main goal is to tackle threats from unlicensed buildings.
But the effect has been to force men, women and children onto the street at the start of winter…
Back at his rented home above the closed drop-in centre on Sunday night, Yang had packed up his belongings and was ready to move out, ordered to leave in yet another visit by the police. He said he would stay at a friend’s place before looking for a new home for himself and his community endeavour.
Implications for Migrant Worker Families
Migrant workers do have work and make wages. These wages can be sent back home to support aging parents in their home towns. What is less obvious is that in order to find work, much of China’s working age population have left their farms and smaller cities and moved to the larger cities.
But the photo of [Wang] Fuman shined a light on the plight of the tens of millions of so-called left-behind children who grow up in impoverished rural areas largely on their own after their parents leave to work in big cities. The social fabric that once held together the Chinese countryside is falling apart as millions of workers move away to chase dreams of prosperity.
Many left-behind children like Fuman live with their grandparents. They face a variety of obstacles, including malnutrition, dilapidated homes and poor access to transportation. Scores of rural schools have been shut in recent years, forcing many children to travel long distances to attend classes. source
Last year, according to government statistics, there were 9.02 million minors who matched the profile of Yuzhong: rural children both of whose parents were working away from home or where one parent was working and the other did not have guardianship of them. A much wider definition, which counts all children with at least one parent as working away from home, would put the figure at 61 million. source
The parents I interviewed always claimed they left their villages to “eat bitterness” for the sake of their children: for them to have a better education and a better future.
The sad truth is that when their parents are away, the children sometimes go off the rails as their ageing guardians often fail to impose discipline. source
Parents move away to provide funding for education of their kids. Meanwhile their kids grow up with no parents, lack the fundamental family base, and cannot achieve academically, defeating the purpose of the parents.
China can move very quickly when it wants to move.
Addendum 2017 Jan 25 100 Million Chinese Lose Their Homes ( NHK documentary): A very interesting documentary about China’s farmers and migrant worker class.
It was only five years ago that, for the first time in China’s history, more Chinese people were living in cities than living in the countryside.
Much of this migration was in the service of explosive growth of an export manufacturing economy in China’s coastal provinces, and here indeed, there were many risks and some awful unintended consequences…
The migrations broke up families, leaving millions of young children orphaned with grandparents. The world might have been in awe at China’s ability to maintain economic growth levels above 10 per cent a year for decades, but these were the horrendous practical unintended consequences of a growth convulsion on such a scale.
Addendum 2018 May 26 Left-behind children a poignant reminder of the cost of China’s development
One of the most far-reaching effects of this internal migration is the phenomenon of “left-behind children”. An estimated 61 million rural children – about 22 per cent of all children in China – are currently living without one or both parents, according to a 2013 report by the All China Women’s Federation. These children are, in a sense, orphaned by China’s economic miracle.
Circumstances oblige migrants to leave their children behind: high living costs in the city; their often unstable job situation requiring them to move from one construction site to another, for instance; and China’s hukou or family registry system, which makes it very hard for them to send their children to local schools in the city.
2019 Jan 17 China’s Looming Crisis: A Shrinking Population
The looming demographic crisis could be the Achilles heel of China’s stunning economic transformation over the last 40 years.
The declining population could create an even greater burden on China’s economy and its labor force. With fewer workers in the future, the government could struggle to pay for a population that is growing older and living longer.
A decline in the working-age population could also slow consumer spending and thus have an impact on the economy in China and beyond.