Poverty statistics of China

I saw a news report about poverty in the US (here). It states that the number of Americans living below the official poverty line was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it. Professor Lawrence Katz at Harvard even call the past ten years “a lost decade” as the median family is worse off than it was in the late 1990s. This stimulated me to collect some statistics and write about poverty in China.

According to a paper (here) by Rural Survey Organization of National Bureau of
Statistics, poverty is measured by both income and consumption. The poor are:

(1) People with per capita net income below the poverty line and per capita
consumption below 1.2 times poverty line. Or,

(2) People with per capita consumption below the poverty line and per capita net
income below 1.2 times poverty line.

The poverty alleviation in China can be divided into 4 phases.

From 1978 to 1985, social and economic development played a major role in reducingpoverty. The poverty headcount rate dropped from 30.7% in 1978 to 14.8% in 1985. Income allocation was quite equal.

From 1986 to 1993, the gap between rural and urban income widened. The poverty reduction programs aimed at poor population and poor areas became more important. By the end of 1992, China’s poverty headcount rate was reduced to 8.8%.

The years 1994 to 2000 saw the launch of 8-7 Poverty Alleviation Plan, and the government intended to eliminate the absolute poverty in 7 years through tax favorite policy, financial support and other programs. Some national poor counties were designated. Labor migration was encouraged. The poverty
headcount rate dropped to 3.4% by the end of 2000.

From 2000 onwards, poverty alleviation work focused more on improving the vulnerable populations by guaranteeing them better living and working conditions. Technology,education, public healthcare, and cultural development are also included in the goal. By the end of 2003, the absolute poverty population was 3.1% of total population.

There is, however, doubts over the accuracy of Chinese data. For example, Professor Carl Riskin at Columbia University argues that the Chinese poverty line is designed to be lower than the World Bank standard (the paper is here). The below is a graph I saw at the World Bank blogs, which addresses the same problem.

Even if the measurement error is not huge for China, there are other wellbeing problems concerning rural China. In massive migration working, the female and
youth population were left behind in villages. Crime rates went up in some areas, and children suffer from psychological problems. All these problems require deeper investigations than looking at the poverty statistics.


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