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Chinese workers desert state sector

By Duncan Hewitt, BBC News, 6 May 2000, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK

BEIJING - An official survey in China has given further evidence of the dramatic changes in the country's economy.

The nationwide survey found that in the last two decades, the proportion of urban workers employed in state enterprises has almost halved to just over 40%.

The private sector on the other hand has snowballed, according to China's official news agency.

The survey by China's state statistical bureau showed that at the end of 1998, only some 44% of the country's 200 million urban workers were employed in state enterprises, down from 78% two decades before.

Around 23% worked for individual or family run businesses, with a similar proportion in what are known as collective or other forms of enterprises. In practice these too are often effectively privately-run.

The figures give a further indication that the private sector is now the most dynamic part of China's economy.

This is despite continuing official ambivalence: China last year amended its constitution to give greater protection to private business, but it still emphasises that the state sector is the core of the economy.

The survey also highlights a growing wealth gap: the average monthly urban income is around $80, but people with college degrees earn at least twice as much as those with little education.

In practice the divide is often far wider: in 6% of urban families, the survey showed, per capita income was a mere $12 a month.

It said poor families were a serious problem, particularly in cities which were once bastions of state run industry where redundancies have been highest.

It also suggests that people in their 40s are among those hardest hit by the economic changes.

Having missed much of their education because of the Cultural Revolution, they now earn less on average than people under 30.

It is these older workers who often face redundancy from the state sector.

And with at least another seven million job losses expected this year the government is urgently seeking to create a nationwide social welfare system to defuse what is seen as a potential threat to social stability.