Young labor force dry up in China: expert

13:32, March 24, 2011      

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China's available labor force of those 35 years old and under has dried up, and one economist says low salaries are to blame.

Zhang Zheng, an expert in rural economy at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management, told China Business News that his survey showed the labor force of this "golden age group", which cities need becasue of its higher work efficiency, has been exhausted in rural areas.

He cited figures saying that among the country's total rural workforce - which stood at 550 million in 2009 - only 200 million were at or below 35. At the same time, industries employed some 230 million farmers-turned workers.

"Judging from these figures, I believe the rural workforce at and below age 35 has been used up," he said.

But he also added that there is a surplus of middle-aged laborers in the countryside.

The current labor structure in China, which is characterized by a scarcity of young migrant workers along with a surplus of middle-aged workforce in the countryside, is caused by the low salaries paid to migrant workers, he said.

The migrant workers are paid according to their work load. The middle-aged migrant workers in labor-intensive manufacturing industries cannot earn enough to survive in cities under the current payment mechanism set up by enterprises that try to compete by low labor cost.

So many middle-aged migrant workers would rather return home and cultivate farmland, he said.

The method these labor-intensive manufacturing industries used to win in global competition has hastened the exhaustion of the young, rural workforce, he said.

Only by raising salaries for migrant workers can middle-aged labors be lured back to cities to solve the labor shortage, he said.

But many insiders and experts are not convinced of Zhang Zheng's view.

Xiang Suming, owner of Zhonghe Shoe Co Ltd in Taizhou in East China's Zhejiang province, said: "The main reason for worker scarcity is that the new generation of migrant workers are fairly well educated and they have higher salary and welfare expectations, so many of them frequently change jobs."

That has made many enterprises paying low wages experience a shortage, he said.

Wu Guobao, an expert with the institute of rural development at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: "It's not accurate to say China's young labor in the countryside is exhausted because a large number of young people still choose to stay at home."

The living cost in cities is high while the pay for migrant workers is comparatively low, so employment in urban areas does not necessarily entice all young people in the countryside, he said.

"Therefore, to some extent a labor shortage could only prove that there is a decreasing young, rural labor supply, but it could not prove a labor exhaustion."

Source: China Daily
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