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Poverty Dynamics and the Linkages to Labour Market and Welfare Reforms in Urban China Dr Heather Zhang, University of Leeds, UK Prof. Laihua Wang, Tianjin.

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Presentation on theme: "Poverty Dynamics and the Linkages to Labour Market and Welfare Reforms in Urban China Dr Heather Zhang, University of Leeds, UK Prof. Laihua Wang, Tianjin."— Presentation transcript:

1 Poverty Dynamics and the Linkages to Labour Market and Welfare Reforms in Urban China Dr Heather Zhang, University of Leeds, UK Prof. Laihua Wang, Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences, China Paper presented at UK Development Studies Association Annual Conference, Institute of Education, London 3 November 2012

2 OUTLINE Research problem and objectives Methodology Preliminary findings Theoretical reflections

3 Research Problem and Research Objectives (1) Increasing scholarly attention to the phenomenon of ‘new urban poverty’ in China in the past decade and more (cf., e.g. Guan, 1999; Lin, 2007; Solinger, 2002; Tang, et al. 2003) Research on the dynamics of poverty is limited – Fulong Wu, et al. (2010, Urban poverty in China) explore China’s dynamic urban poverty landscape in the context of city sprawl, urbanisation, land requisition from perspectives of property rights and entitlements – Simon Appleton, et al. (2009, Growing out of poverty: Trends and patterns of urban poverty in China 1988-2002, World Development) Employ quantitative research method to estimate the trends in urban absolute poverty using the Chinese Household Income Project survey data 1988-2002.

4 Research Problem and Research Objectives (2) The central concerns of the research – Individuals and families falling into poverty and the possibility of escaping it over time – The possibility of poverty transmission across generations, or intergenerational poverty and upward/downward social mobility Aims and objectives – To explore fresh theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of poverty and inequality in urban China – To contribute to scholarship, and academic and policy debate in the field

5 Methodology and Data ( 1 ) Applying qualitative longitudinal research methodology and a dynamic approach to the study of poor families in two communities in Tianjin – One author conducted extensive fieldwork between 2002-03, visiting, observing and interviewing nine poor families who were on income support, or the minimum livelihood guarantee (dibao) scheme – The other author carried out follow-up research six years later near the end of 2008, successfully tracing seven of the nine families, and intensively interviewed the same key informants and their family members – Combining qualitative longitudinal research with other qualitative methods of social inquiry, e.g. ethnographic fieldwork, observations, unstructured interviews, focus group, site visits (to households and local communities), etc.

6 Methodology and Data ( 2 ) Wider background of the research – The first investigation conducted in 2002/3 coincided with the systematic rolling-out of the dibao scheme in Tianjin in the wake of massive layoffs caused by enterprise restructuring and the sharp rise in unemployment, poverty, and people’s increased sense of risk and insecurity in this large industrial city – The follow-up investigation near the end of 2008 witnessed the most intensive public policy interventions by the central and local state in response to the serious challenge to Chinese economy and society caused by the severe global financial crisis Situating our micro-level research and individuals’ experiences in the broader context allows us – to avoid an individualistic explanation – to examine larger forces (e.g. globalisation, neo-liberalisation, social policy interventions) at work in giving rise to the phenomenon and its dynamics

7 Methodology and Data ( 3 ) Qualitative longitudinal research methodology – A temporal dimension – A dynamic approach – Generating close-ups of lives and experiences of individuals and groups in real time – Analysing individuals’ experiences against a broader background of historical and socio-economic change, and examining the impact of larger social forces on individuals’ livelihood trajectories Avoid an ‘individualised’ approach (e.g. the suzhi discourse), and take account of both institutional mechanisms and individual agency – Generate rich, detailed, textured data and produce nuanced understandings and deep insights – Has considerable explanatory power

8 Preliminary Findings ( 1 ) Data analysis thus far reveals – None of the seven poor families whom we managed to trace in 2008 was on dibao any more – On surface, this was due to Children finished high/technical school or university and found jobs One spouse found formal/informal employment Retirement of one spouse, and thus family receiving pension income Death of the seriously-ill family member

9 Profiles of Informants on dibao Benefit (2002/03) NameGenderAgeEducationYear of layoffFamily size QiM52University diploma19913 HanF48Junior high school20023 WangF41Senior high school20003 LiuM48Junior high school20003 GuF47University diploma20002 ZhuF42University diploma19972 FengF38Senior high school19993 HuaF41Technical school19993 XiaoF40Junior high school19922

10 Wang, an unemployed worker with her husband (December 2008)

11 Preliminary Findings ( 2 ) However, it does not mean that all the families escaped poverty – Those still struggling near the poverty line Family member suffered from serious chronic health problems Female-headed/divorced single mother household – Most families, even though no longer on dibao, were still vulnerable to external shocks and have relatively low resilience

12 Healthcare expenses 2004-7 for one seriously ill interviewee from a poor family (December 2008)

13 Identifying mechanisms and contributing factors (1) Urban enterprise restructuring and employment policies The transformation of danwei and the reform of the socialist welfare system Increasing globalisation Unemployment and the change in occupational identity and social status Pressure and stress caused by fierce competition and widening inequality in a market economy Broken social contract

14 Identifying mechanisms and contributing factors (2) Public policy interventions – policy matters – 2002/3’s investigation: systematic rolling-out of dibao and other social assistance schemes, implementation of employment and re- employment policies in Tianjin – 2008’s follow-up research: a wide range of public policy interventions implemented in between the years, which were intensified in 2008 amid the global financial crisis (the Chinese government’s four trillion RMB stimulus package announced on 9 November 2008 investing heavily in infrastructure and social welfare), e.g. policies that give the 40-50 cohort re-employment priorities (40-50 优先就业 ), the ‘government paying bill’ policy (‘ 政府买单 ’), encouraging flexible employment ( 灵活就业 ), emphasising full social insurance coverage ( 社保全覆盖 ), etc.

15 Academic debates surrounding dibao and urban poverty in post-reform China Dorathy Solinger (The dibao recipients: Modified anti-emblem of urban modernisation; China Perspectives, 2008 No. 4: 36-47; Solinger & Hu, Yiyang, Welfare, Wealth and Poverty in Urban China: The Dibao and Its Differential Disbursement, The China Quarterly, 2012, Vol. 211: 741-764) Mun Young Cho (On the edge between ‘the people’ and ‘the population’: Ethnographic research on the minimum livelihood guarantee, The China Quarterly, 2010 Vol. 201: 20-37) The existing English literature tends to apply a structuralist perspective – dibao recipients portrayed as victims of market reforms vs. active agents of change dibao tends to be discarded as – a control mechanism used by the state towards its citizens – an ineffective remedy prescribed by an ailing regime – a stigmatising label and a humiliating experience for its recipients Some exceptions – Daniel Hammond (2011), Social Assistance in China 1993-2002: Institutions, feedback and policy actors in the Chinese policy process, Asian Politics and Policy 3(1): 69-93

16 Aspects neglected in current research and debates The dynamics of dibao – An essential component of China’s developing and evolving institutions of social security and welfare system The comprehensiveness of dibao – An important part of China’s comprehensive social assistance system The non-monetary aspects of dibao The perspectives and understandings of the individuals and families on dibao benefit with respect to its roles and significance Theoretical relevance

17 Some theoretical reflections We intend to explore – Theoretical explanations of poverty dynamics in urban China unilateral breach of social contract through rewriting the existing ‘terms and conditions’ vs. the ‘unlucky generation’ explanations – Theories on social change, social stratification and mobility (cf. Xiaogang Wu & Donald J. Treiman, 2007, Inequality and equality under Chinese socialism: The hukou system and intergenerational occupational mobility, AJS; Yanjie Bian, 2002, Chinese social stratification and social mobility, Annu. Rev. Sociol., etc.) – Ralf Dahrendorf ‘s idea of citizenship and life chances (1959 – Class and class conflict in industrial society; 1979 – Life Chances: Approaches to social and political theory, 1988 – The modern social contract: An essay on the politics of liberty, 2008 – The modern social conflict)

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