China’s current pool of migrant workers, or cheap labor from the rural areas, is the second generation of migrant worker since China opened its economy 20 years ago. This new generation of worker looks very much like his urban counterpart in terms of appearance, but is no nearer to gaining a foothold in the city than his predecessors were.
Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the current migrant worker population working in cities is over 90 million, of which 45 percent are below 25 years old. But researchers are suspicious of these figures. Wang Chunguang, a researcher with the Sociology Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), estimates that the number is more likely to be 150 million, 120 million of whom are second generation.
A large proportion of the first-generation migrant workers has gone back to their hometowns, after having retired, as it were. Only those who were successful in business or in securing a career for themselves remain in the cities.