July 28th, 2009 | China Daily Second child not right population recipe
Shanghai’s announcement on encouraging couples who have no siblings to have a second child is sending a wrong signal.
By claiming the city is suffering from an increasingly aging population and a possible shortage of workforce 40 years from now, these officials seem to talk as if Shanghai were an independent “republic”.
This, of course, has no basis. If you count the 6.4 million people, mostly young, residing and working in Shanghai without a local hukou, or permanent residence permit, Shanghai’s graying threat would not look that gloomy. These people actually make up a third of the city’s 19 million.
Since Shanghai has long been a top destination in China for both young professionals and migrant rural workers, it would be near-sighted to examine the population problem from the viewpoint of the hukou-holding people, while ignoring those without a hukou.
With 1.3 billion people, China is the world’s most populous country that would be surpassed by India in 2028, according to a recent study by the South Korea National Statistical Office.
The achievement of China moving towards becoming the second most populous country may be attributed to the last 30 years of family planning work, which translated into 300 to 400 million fewer births.
However, China still gives births each year to some 8 million children.
Population pressure has long been an impediment to social and economic progress, despite the benefit China has reaped from its population dividend – the rise in the economic growth rate due to a rising share of working-age people.
On the employment side, China is still fighting a tough battle to create jobs for an estimated 10 million people entering the workforce each year. In addition, some 200 million surplus rural laborers are also in need of jobs.
It is true that the increasing graying population will and should be a matter of great concern. Yet that problem cannot be solved by ignoring the pressure from an even larger population – as a result of encouraging couples to have a second child.
There are other ways of dealing with this problem. Key among them is to build an effective social security system and better community service system offering good care to the elderly both in urban and rural areas.
While having one more child might mean more attention for the elderly, it is by no means a guarantee.
The real problem we are facing now or in the future is not a shortage of people, but an excess of people who don’t have access to proper education and medical resources, especially in the vast rural areas. We are challenged by a rural labor force that lacks proper training, and a rural population which still counts on more children for old age security. And, that vicious cycle will continue if we choose to ignore the issues.
The right approach to the population problem is to divert more resources, such as in education and medical care, to the countryside.
Having fewer, yet healthy and well-educated children is a policy that should be encouraged.
It was only 60 years ago that China’s population was around 450 million. If we had that number of people today, we would have faced fewer problems.