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Cover Stories Series 2014> Balancing out Pensions> Archive
UPDATED: September 5, 2011 NO. 36 SEPTEMBER 8, 2011
Stuck in the Middle
Better-paid urban residents aren't enjoying the life they have expected


Sun Lijun works as a software engineer at a Beijing-based IT company and earns around 8,000 yuan ($1,254) a month. His relatively high income means his friends and colleagues, as well as China's statistical agencies, regard him as middle class. Sun, however, does not think he is worthy of being included in a category that is traditionally associated with security and comfort.

At the age of 28, Sun is single and rents a small apartment outside the East Fourth Ring Road in Chaoyang District.

"Although many of my friends think I have a good job and therefore don't have to worry too much about my daily life, I still feel insecure in such a large, competitive and expensive city," Sun said.

He isn't alone. Many more Chinese like Sun, regardless of seemingly respectable salaries, refuse to consider themselves part of the middle class. Government figures, however, show an exponential increase in China's middle-class population.

According to a report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) on August 3, China had 230 million middle-class residents in 2009, making up about 37 percent of the country's city dwellers. In Beijing, the proportion is estimated at 46 percent.

The middle class is defined by the amount of money a person spends on food as a percentage of total spending in the report.

A survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2005 showed the urban middle class should have an annual income between 60,000 yuan ($9,405) and 500,000 yuan ($78,376).

"I have been technically placed in the middle class by the CASS," Sun said. He said those with an annual income of 60,000 yuan may be middle class in western provinces such as Qinghai and Gansu, but in Beijing or Shanghai, 60,000 yuan remains a basic wage.

"But, I still don't have the means to buy a home or get married," he said.

Paying for his life

Inflation, marked by escalating food prices, has caught up with many young people, who are technically classified as belonging to the middle class.

According to the NBS, China's consumer price index (CPI), a main gauge of inflation, hit 6.5 percent in July, up from 3.3 percent a year earlier and from a three-year high of 6.4 percent in June. This marked the highest level for the index since it reached 7.1 percent in June 2008. Food prices soared 14.8 percent compared to last year.

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