Chinese low-income groups feel the pinch under soaring prices

10:28, November 28, 2010      

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An employee puts bags of sugar on to shelves at a supermarket in Beijing. The price of the commodity has doubled in China since the beginning of the year. (Photo: China Daily)

"I can't afford an apartment, a car or a wife, but it never occurred to me until now that I can't even afford vegetables or fruit," said Gao Lei, a 30-year-old renter in Beijing.

"I went to a grocery store yesterday only to find that even apples, the cheapest fruit, are sold for 4 yuan half a kilogram, doubling the price from two months ago," said Gao.

China's consumer price index (CPI), the main gauge of inflation, rose to a 25-month high of 4.4 percent in October. The hike was mainly due to a 10.1-percent surge in food prices. Food prices have a one-third weighting in China's CPI calculation.

Though Gao is slightly exaggerating his hardship during the current inflation, price rises, particularly of life necessities such as grains and vegetables, do force Chinese low-income groups into a rough time.

Jiang Peng's family is hard-hit, as he and his wife both are laid-off workers and have two daughters in college. Jiang, however, has a new job, working as a janitor in Jinan-based Shandong Economic University.

Jiang's family makes some 24,000 yuan (3,600 U.S. dollars) a year, half of which goes to paying tuition for their two college girls, with the majority of the rest covering their daughters' living expenses.

"We spend each penny carefully, because we try to save as much as possible for the kids. Now as price goes up, we find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet," said Jiang.

The only vegetable Jiang and his wife have these days is cabbage, since it is the cheapest of all vegetables.

Jiang said prices have dropped slightly due to government price control efforts, but it is not making a big difference yet, and prices of some daily necessities remain high, not showing signs of a decrease.

"We have fried dough sticks for breakfast, and even its price rose from 3.5 yuan per half a kilogram to 4 yuan, never falling again," said Jiang.

For the poorest families, the government already made decisions to dole out temporary subsidies to help them cope with rising living costs.

Jin Hong, mother of a fifth-grader in the city of Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, now has to pay 15 percent more for her son's lunch at school. Jin's household monthly income stands at less than 1,000 yuan.

"I hope there will be no more increases, otherwise I will not be able to afford the school meals for my son," said Jin.p Jin's family is entitled to a 100 yuan subsidy given by the local government, which is due on Dec. 10. "Now, we are counting on the subsidy," she said.

Students from poor families are also feeling the pinch, and they are paid great attention in the Chinese government's ongoing price control efforts. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) issued a statement on Nov. 23 detailing various measures to institute price controls, including keeping prices stable in student cafeterias.

Also, an earlier statement issued by the State Council, China's Cabinet, ordered local governments to offer subsidies to student canteens and increase allowances for poor students.

He Ming, a student from a low-income family at Nanjing-based Southeast University, now sneaks out of classes earlier to make it to the cafeteria before all low-priced dishes are sold out.

Low priced dishes are the vegetables, since meat is usually more expensive in China, and they are priced at one yuan per dish.

"In order not to only swallow rice for the meal, I have to quit part of the class. Though the cafeteria still serves low-price dishes, despite price hikes of vegetables lately, they serve less."

He has a monthly living allowance of 300 yuan, which is given by his parents.

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