Is China Host to the World’s Biggest Middle-income Population?

The latest official data points to China accounting for nearly a third of the world’s middle-income population.

Figures just released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicate that the country’s middle-income population has reached 300 million, accounting for 30% of the global total.

The data release comes shortly after the 2017 Central Economic Work Conference claimed that China has “created the most populous middle-income demographic in the world.”

Critics point out, however, that the standard used to define “middle-income” are too broad, and fail to adequately take China’s domestic conditions into accounts.

The NBS used the World Bank’s middle-income benchmark, which in the case of China translates into an annual income of 25,000 – 250,000 yuan.

Writing for Securities Times, Yu Fenghui (余丰慧) points out that that the problem with this standard is that it encompasses far too broad an income range, and that the bottom end falls well below the threshold of what would be considered “middle-income” in the Chinese context.

“If an annual income of 25,000 yuan (or a monthly income of 2083 yuan) is considered middle-income, then this standard is too low,” writes Yu.

“Anyone who works as a labourer in the city can reach this standard….China’s middle-income population is not up to 300 million.”

Yu instead advocates the use of a higher benchmark for defining China’s middle-income population, as well as the inclusion of other significant indices.

“China’s middle-income population benchmark should be tilted towards the high end…and not solely dependent upon income data for assessment.

“Based on the fundamental standards for wellbeing in China, [benchmarks] should at least involve secure residence and the availability of leisure, ownership of a home and vehicle, ability to readily raise children and care for the elderly, and no pressure in providing education for one’s offspring.”

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