THE greatest wave of voluntary migration in human history transformedChina’s cities, and the global economy, in a single generation. It has also created a huge task for those cities, by raising the expectations of the next generation of migrants from the countryside, and of second-generation migrant children. They have grown up in cities in which neither the jobs nor the education offered them have improved much.
This matters because the next generation of migrants has already arrived in staggering numbers.Shanghai’s migrant population almost trebled between 2000 and 2010, to 9 m of the municipality’s23 m people. Nearly 60% of Shanghai’s7.5m or so 20-to-34-year-olds are migrants.
Many have ended up in the same jobs and dormitory beds as their parents did. A survey by the National Bureau of Statistics found that 44% of young migrants worked in manufacturing and another 10% in construction.
This and another recent survey suggest that young migrants are dissatisfied with their lot and, despite large pay rises for factory work in recent years, with their salaries, too. Those who grew up partly in the cities with their parents have expectations of a comfortable life that are more difficult to satisfy. Their ambitions frustrated, many do something their parents did not: they leave one job, and find another. And then leave again.
The Centre for Child-Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility, a partner in Beijing of Save the Children Sweden, conducted a survey of young textile workers in five provinces in 2011. A majority had changed jobs at least twice since starting work in the previous two or three years. Nearly half worried about the monotony of their work and despaired of their career prospects. Only 8.6% reported being “comfortable” at work. One worker told researchers: “We have become robots, and I don’t want to be a robot who only works with machines.”
Tied to the land
One obstacle to a better job is their parents. In China’s system of household registration (known as hukou), children born to rurally registered parents count as rural, even if their parents have migrated to the city, and regardless of where they themselves were born. In 2010Shanghaiwas home to 390,000 children under the age of six who were officially classified as “migrants”.
They are fated to grow up on a separate path from children of Shanghainese parents. Migrant children are eligible to attend local primary and middle schools, but barred fromShanghai’s high schools. They receive better schooling and social benefits than their parents did, and some pursue different types of work (see next story), but their status and their education are still more likely to lead to an assembly line than a university classroom.
For years reformers have called for changes in the hukou system. Children with a rural hukou want to lead a better life than their parents did. Many have never worked on the farm, but the system denies them a fair chance to move up the ladder.
This is unlikely to change soon. First,China’s factories still need large numbers of migrants, and the system now in place ensures that many of them will seek work there. Second, Chinese cities have welcomed migrants without a coherent plan to educate them.Shanghaihad 170,000 students enrolled in high school in 2010, but there were 570,000 migrant children aged 15 to 19 living in the city who were unable to attend those schools. “TheShanghaigovernment needs to provide its educational resources to the locals first,” says Xu Benliang, deputy director of the Shanghai Charity Education and Training Centre, which teaches young migrants how to get on in life. Mr Xu says the centre tries to tell migrants: “Don’t complain about things that you can’t change.”
One educational option that is left to the brightest young migrants is vocational school, where students are taught a trade. At a suburban campus of the Shanghai Vocational School of Technology and Business, half the students are migrants and half are local Shanghainese (five years ago, only one student in seven was a migrant). Because the locals tend to be those who failed to secure the prized slots in formalShanghaihigh schools, the migrant students here are the stars.
Zhang Xiaohan is 16. She moved toShanghaifive years ago from Henan province in centralChina in order to be with her migrant parents. Her father is a furniture salesman and her mother works in a shop. She studies computing. Ms Zhang would prefer a diploma from a Shanghaihigh school and the better chance at a university education that would bring, but she admits, “I need to accept reality. I need to adapt。