Global Times, People's Republic of China

More Poor in America than China? Think Again!


Has the United States overtaken China in its number of poor people? Although recent statistics in China seem to show that China's destitute are doing better than their American counterparts, this article from China's Global Times begs to differ, and argues that while China's impoverished have little more than 'four bare walls' and often have never eaten meat, America's poor are likely to be obese.


By Chiang Meng [蒋萌]


Translated By Ann Tang Kubusek


September 21, 2010


People's Republic of China - Global Times - Original Article (Chinese)

On September 16, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report showing that in 2008, the number of Americans living below the poverty line was 39,800,000, accounting for 13.2 percent of the total population. By 2009, the number had risen to 43,600,000, or 14.3 percent of the total population. This shows that one out of seven Americans is poor. On July 17th, a special Party conference here on combating poverty declared that China's impoverished rural population dropped from 250,000,000 in 1978 to 3,597,000 in 2009 - and that by 2020, poverty will essentially have been eradicated.   


This news seems to convey the following: China has fewer poor people than America does. America’s destitute are increasing while China’s impoverished are continually decreasing. It seems as if we really are “surpassing England and overtaking America.” Could this be true?


There must be a standard for measuring poverty. To be considered below the poverty line in America, the annual income of a family of four must be under $21,954, and for an individual below $10,956. In 2008, China’s impoverished consisted of people making less than 785 yuan a year. Please pay attention: with current exchange rates, one U.S. dollar is equal to 6.72 yuan. That means $21,954 can be exchanged for more than 140,000 yuan. In other words, America’s destitute make 180 times more than impoverished Chinese! And this is after taking account of the recent appreciation of yuan. Two years ago, the disparity was even greater.


In April 2009, the World Bank issued a report outlining the tremendous gap between China’s poverty line and the international standard. The World Bank recommends a universal poverty rate amounting to $1.25 a day per capita. But China's poverty standard of $785 yuan per year translates to 2.15 yuan per capita a day. So by World Bank standards, China has over 254 million people who spend less than the international poverty rate. This figure towers above Chinese estimates of 15 million impoverished rural poor.


A more in-depth comparison shows that for an impoverished American family, a television and air conditioner are common possessions. Even one or two old cars are often affordable. An American family living on an annual income of a little over $20,000 a year can afford these items. Furthermore, in America, the more obese a person is, the more likely it is that they're impoverished. In America, the Engel Coefficient hardly applies. Poverty stricken Americans don't have to worry about whether they'll have enough to eat. The more pertinent problem is an excess of fat and sugar. America’s poor don't have the money to frequent health clubs to lose weight. It's more likely that they'll sit on a sofa eating popcorn and watching television.


[Editor's Note: The Engel Coefficient, named after the statistician Ernst Engel (1821–1896), says that with a given set of tastes and preferences, as income rises, the proportion of income spent on food falls, even if actual expenditures on food rise.]


On the other hand, for poverty-stricken Chinese, to say that they are utterly destitute and in possession of only four bare walls isn't mere hyperbole. For poor children to be able to eat white rice and vegetables is considered lucky because suffering from hunger is so common. Two years ago, volunteers organized a trip for impoverished children to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. During the trip a young girl declared that it was the first time she had ever eaten meat. It’s enough to make one cry. 




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Here is the difference between poor Americans and Chinese: their living standards are by no means being measured by the same rules. People in Beijing or Shanghai making 2,000 or 3,000 yuan a month run around struggling like ants, never being able to afford a home. Even their lives aren't as comfortable as America's poor. So what's the reasoning behind the argument, “There are less poor Chinese than poor Americans?” It could be just ignorant boastfulness or perhaps just ill intent. The prime minster of China, Wen Jibao, has stated in the past, “I often urge reporters to travel to the central and western area of China to look around. When you go there you'll realize that the economic development of Shanghai or Beijing cannot represent all of China …”



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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US October 4, 6:09pm]


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