March 6, 2009 / 7:28 AM / 11 years ago

China still has at least 20 million jobless migrants

BEIJING (Reuters) - China still has at least 20 million unemployed migrant workers who lost their jobs because of the impact of the global economic crisis, a senior official said on Friday.

But Chen Xiwen, director of the Office of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, said China had not witnessed a new wave of migrants returning jobless to the countryside since factories started reopening a month ago after the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

“According to surveys and statistics by different departments, the finding is similar to what I’ve said before — 20 million, or slightly more,” Chen told a news conference on the sidelines of the annual meeting of parliament.

It was Chen on February 2 who made public the estimate of 20 million, or about 15 percent of China’s 130 million migrants who have left the land temporarily in search of work in cities.

For the ruling Communist Party, which has yoked its authority to decades of rapid growth, these rural jobless — about equal to Australia’s population of 21 million — are a worry, especially if migrant workers find their farmland has been taken for development.

But Chen, who advises national leaders, said evidence gathered by the authorities suggested that the job market had stabilized.

“At present, according to the situation on the ground, with factories reopening after the Spring Festival, employment is recovering and there is no new phenomenon of migrant workers returning home,” Chen added, referring to the Lunar New Year break.

Huang Huahua, governor of the southern province of Guangdong, also painted a cautiously optimistic picture.

Guangdong is home to the largest concentration of migrant workers in China — 20 million in all, including 19 million from other provinces.

Huang told a separate news conference that 10.25 million of these workers had returned to their families for the holidays.

A total of 9.46 million workers had come back to the province and 7.78 million of them had found work right away, Huang said.

The government then helped find jobs for a further 1.22 million, leaving 466,000 without permanent work, he added.

Reporting by Zhou Xin and Emma Graham-Harrison; Writing by Alan Wheatley

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