Beijing rocked by 26 million lost jobs

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An estimated 26 million poor rural Chinese are now without jobs after pinning their hopes on the once-booming manufacturing sector, where work has dried up due to the global economic slowdown, a government advisory body said.

The figure was released one day after Beijing warned of "possibly the toughest year" since the turn of the century, calling for the development of agriculture and rural areas to offset the economic fallout. Though many Chinese cities have seen double-digit growth in recent years, the countryside has lagged behind, forcing peasants to seek urban factory jobs. A recent government survey showed that more than 15 per cent of China's 130 million migrant workers have returned to their hometowns recently, where they are now unemployed, said Chen Xiwen, director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group. Another 5 million to 6 million new migrants enter the workforce each year, Mr Chen added.

"So, if we put those figures together, we have roughly 25 to 26 million rural migrant workers who are now coming under pressures for employment," the official said.

"So, ensuring job creation and maintenance is ensuring the stability of the countryside." China's official jobless tally, which only counts registered urban workers, was estimated last November at 8.3 million. This rate is believed to under-represent the true number of unemployed because it leaves out large swathes of the private or informal economy.

Beijing has stressed that its priority will be ensuring development in the countryside, where many have come to rely on remittances sent home by migrants working in factories or on urban construction sites. Many factory workers have already taken to the streets in recent weeks, protesting against lay-offs. The government already has policies to help rural workers returning home, including help in setting up businesses, Mr Chen said.