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Impact of the Global Economic Crisis on China’s Migrant Workers: A Survey of 2,700 in 2009
Mark Wang1

Abstract: An Australian geographer examines the effects of the global financial crisis on China’s migrant workers, based on a recent survey of over 2,700 such workers conducted during January–February 2009. The author focuses on the number of migrant workers returning to their home villages for the annual New Year holiday period, the types of workers that were laid off, options available to such workers upon losing employment, and the reasons underlying their subsequent moves. Implications of the findings for labor policy in China are briefly outlined and several directions for future research identified. Journal of Economic Literature, Classification Numbers: E240, G010, J610, J690. 7 tables, 68 references. Key words: China, global financial crisis, migrant workers, unemployment, globalization, rural development, push factors, manufacturing exports, hukou, migration networks, remittances, Chinese New Year, return migration.

INTRODUCTION

M

igration is closely tied with processes of globalization and the global economy, and China’s rural-to-urban migrant workers have contributed substantially to the country’s economic growth and success. This group of hard-working laborers has made inexpensive “made-in-China” products available in almost every corner of the world. Varying sources estimate that migrant workers2 have contributed 16–24 percent of China’s GDP growth and one-third to 40 percent of the rural net income (Yan and Li, 2007; Harney, 2008; Cai and Chan, 2009).3 However, migrants have been the most vulnerable group of workers,4 and have the most insecure terms of employment, as evidenced by mass layoffs in the migrant-dominated export manufacturing sector beginning in the autumn of 2008. In the Pearl River Delta alone,
1 Associate Professor,…...

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