Migrant workers in China - statistics & facts

The number of rural migrant workers in China surged to 291 million in 2019, comprising more than one third of the Chinese labor force. Rural migrant laborers propelled the extraordinary boom of China’s economy over the last decades but are still subject to discrimination and unfair treatment. Their children often have limited access to healthcare and education and are often separated from their parents for years on end.

The definition of rural migrant workers used by the authorities in China is relatively broad and includes all people that still have a rural household registration but engage in non-agricultural work in their home area, or leave their home area for work for more than six months per year. The number of migrant workers, therefore, not only gives a good impression of the scale of the still ongoing urbanization in China, but also of the size of the workforce that left the agricultural sector to find employment in industry and services.

In recent years there has been a relative increase in migrant workers that can find employment close to their home regions. This trend is backed by the accelerating economic development of inland cities and the countryside in general. The share of rural migrant laborers that did not leave their home province for work reached 74 percent in 2019. In contrast, the economically better developed coastal regions in East China, which still attracts the majority of migrant workers, saw a drop in the total number of workers in the region. This trend is most obvious in the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas, which both experienced a significant decrease in numbers of migrant workers over the last decade.

Rural migrant workers tend to be employed in jobs that are not very attractive to local workers and their working conditions tend to be poor. However, the average wage of migrant workers in China improved considerably in total value as well as in comparison to local workers over the years and accommodation conditions also improved noticeably. The Chinese government took several measures to reduce institutional discrimination, but migrant workers are still far from being treated equally. This has the worst effect on their children, who often have far less opportunities than their counterparts enjoying the advantages of an urban household registration.

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Migrant workers in China

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