Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Mobility problems

Economists say that efficiency demands that factors of production be flexible and adaptable. China has tried to keep its labor supply flexible without granting workers who move the same benefits due people who stay where they're told to be. Can it work?

 “Don’t complain about things that you can’t change”
THE greatest wave of voluntary migration in human history transformed China’s cities, and the global economy, in a single generation. It has also created a huge task for those cities, by raising the expectations of the next generation of migrants from the countryside, and of second-generation migrant children. They have grown up in cities in which neither the jobs nor the education offered them have improved much.

This matters because the next generation of migrants has already arrived in staggering numbers. Shanghai’s migrant population almost trebled between 2000 and 2010, to 9m of the municipality’s 23m people…

Many have ended up in the same jobs and dormitory beds as their parents did. A survey by the National Bureau of Statistics found that 44% of young migrants worked in manufacturing and another 10% in construction. This and another recent survey suggest that young migrants are dissatisfied with their lot and, despite large pay rises for factory work in recent years, with their salaries, too. Those who grew up partly in the cities with their parents have expectations of a comfortable life that are more difficult to satisfy. Their ambitions frustrated, many do something their parents did not: they leave one job, and find another. And then leave again.

One obstacle to a better job is their parents. In China’s system of household registration (known as hukou), children born to rurally registered parents count as rural, even if their parents have migrated to the city, and regardless of where they themselves were born. In 2010 Shanghai was home to 390,000 children under the age of six who were officially classified as “migrants”.

They are fated to grow up on a separate path from children of Shanghainese parents. Migrant children are eligible to attend local primary and middle schools, but barred from Shanghai’s high schools…

For years reformers have called for changes in the hukou system. Children with a rural hukou want to lead a better life than their parents did…

This is unlikely to change soon. First, China’s factories still need large numbers of migrants, and the system now in place ensures that many of them will seek work there. Second, Chinese cities have welcomed migrants without a coherent plan to educate them. Shanghai had 170,000 students enrolled in high school in 2010, but there were 570,000 migrant children aged 15 to 19 living in the city who were unable to attend those schools…

One educational option that is left to the brightest young migrants is vocational school, where students are taught a trade. At a suburban campus of the Shanghai Vocational School of Technology and Business, half the students are migrants and half are local Shanghainese…

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