International Development Planning Review

Life-course experiences of laid-off workers and their attitudes towards migrant workers in urban China

International Development Planning Review (2013), 35, (3), 219–240.

Abstract

The labour market experiences of laid-off workers from three Chinese cities were analysed to determine how the event of being laid off impacted the lives of the workers over the ten-year period since redundancy. The trajectory for the workers over this period was downward sloping, with many workers descending into poverty. Some have been able to be upwardly mobile, due to social networks (guanxi) or taking advantage of market opportunities through education and training, but many of the workers who were upwardly mobile simply found unskilled jobs, which were less unappealing than manual factory work. Overall mobility, whether up or down, was on a minor scale. Older workers are still the most vulnerable group and require assistance in adjusting to the new labour system. Those workers who are feeling optimistic about their future in the open market and are not threatened by migrant workers, who fill the ranks of the supplementary-service sector, feel that they are contributing to the general increase in prosperity. Overall, the state-owned enterprise (SOE) system still dominates workers' mentalities, while the new labour market system is benefiting only a privileged few.

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APPLETON, S., KNIGHT, J., SONG, L. and XIA, Q. (2002), ‘Labour retrenchment in China: determinant and consequences’, China Economic Review, 13, 252-75. ‘Labour retrenchment in China: determinant and consequences’ China Economic Review 13 252 75 Google Scholar

APPLETON, S., KNIGHT, J., SONG, L. and XIA, Q. (2004), ‘Contrasting paradigms: segmentation and competitiveness in the formation of the Chinese labour market’, Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, 2, 185-205. ‘Contrasting paradigms: segmentation and competitiveness in the formation of the Chinese labour market’ Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies 2 185 205 Google Scholar

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BAI, L. (2006), ‘Graduate unemployment: dilemmas and challenges in China's move to mass higher education’, The China Quarterly, 185, 128-44. ‘Graduate unemployment: dilemmas and challenges in China's move to mass higher education’ The China Quarterly 185 128 44 Google Scholar

BORJAS, G. (2003), ‘The labour demand curve is downward sloping: re-examining the impact of immigration on the labour market’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118, 1335-74. ‘The labour demand curve is downward sloping: re-examining the impact of immigration on the labour market’ The Quarterly Journal of Economics 118 1335 74 Google Scholar

BRAY, D. (2005), Social Space and Governance in Urban China, The Danwei System from Origins to Reform, Stanford University Press, California. Social Space and Governance in Urban China, The Danwei System from Origins to Reform Google Scholar

CAI, Y. S. (2006), State and Laid-off Workers in Reform China: The Silence and Collective Action of the Retrenched, Abingdon, Routledge. State and Laid-off Workers in Reform China: The Silence and Collective Action of the Retrenched Google Scholar

CHANGCHUN GOVERNMENT (2012), ‘Economy’ www.changchun.gov.cn Google Scholar

CITRIN, J., GREEN, D., MUSTE, C. and WONG, C. (1997), ‘Public opinion toward immigration reform: the role of economic motivations’, The Journal of Politics, 59, 858-81. ‘Public opinion toward immigration reform: the role of economic motivations’ The Journal of Politics 59 858 81 Google Scholar

DONG, X. and BOWLES, P. (2002), ‘Segmentation and Discrimination in China's Emerging Industrial Labour Market’, China Economic Review, 13, 170-96 ‘Segmentation and Discrimination in China's Emerging Industrial Labour Market’ China Economic Review 13 170 96 Google Scholar

FAN, C., HALL, P. and WALL, G. (2009), ‘Migration, Hukou status, and labour-market segmentation: the case of high-tech development in Dalian’, Environment and Planning A, 41, 1647-66. ‘Migration, Hukou status, and labour-market segmentation: the case of high-tech development in Dalian’ Environment and Planning A 41 1647 66 Google Scholar

GARNAUT, R., SONG, L. and YAO, Y. (2006), ‘Impact and significance of state-owned enterprise restructuring’, The China Journal, 55, 35-65 ‘Impact and significance of state-owned enterprise restructuring’ The China Journal 55 35 65 Google Scholar

GIELE, J. and ELDER, G. (1998), Methods of Life Course Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, California, Sage Publications. Methods of Life Course Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches Google Scholar

GOLD, T., HURST, W., WON, J. and LI, Q. (2009), Laid-Off Workers in a Workers' State: Unemployment with Chinese Characteristics, New York, Palgrave Macmillan. Laid-Off Workers in a Workers' State: Unemployment with Chinese Characteristics Google Scholar

GU, E. (1999), ‘From permanent employment to massive layoffs: the political economy of "transitional unemployment" in urban China (1993-8)’, Economy and Society, 28, 281-99. ‘From permanent employment to massive layoffs: the political economy of "transitional unemployment" in urban China (1993-8)’ Economy and Society 28 281 99 Google Scholar

GUIHEUX, G. (2007), ‘The Promotion of a New Calculating Chinese Subject: The Case of Laid-off Workers Turning into Entrepreneurs’, Journal of Contemporary China, 50, 149-71. ‘The Promotion of a New Calculating Chinese Subject: The Case of Laid-off Workers Turning into Entrepreneurs’ Journal of Contemporary China 50 149 71 Google Scholar

HE, S., WU, F., WEBSTER, C. and LIU, Y. (2010), ‘Poverty concentration and determinants in China's urban low-income neighbourhoods and social groups’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 34, 328-49. ‘Poverty concentration and determinants in China's urban low-income neighbourhoods and social groups’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 34 328 49 Google Scholar

HU, A. (2007), Economic and Social Transformation in China: Challenges and Opportunities, Abingdon, Routledge. Economic and Social Transformation in China: Challenges and Opportunities Google Scholar

HURST, W. (2004), ‘Understanding contentious collective action by Chinese laid-off workers: the importance of regional political economy’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 39, 94-120. ‘Understanding contentious collective action by Chinese laid-off workers: the importance of regional political economy’ Studies in Comparative International Development 39 94 120 Google Scholar

JOHNSTON, M. and ALVAREZ, R. (2008), ‘Social networks and stratification in the urban Chinese labour market: the case of laid-off textile workers and their officials in the Tianjin municipality’, Sociological Inquiry, 78, 490-512. ‘Social networks and stratification in the urban Chinese labour market: the case of laid-off textile workers and their officials in the Tianjin municipality’ Sociological Inquiry 78 490 512 Google Scholar

KNIGHT, J. and YUEH, L. (2009), ‘Segmentation or competition in China's urban labour market’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 33, 79-94. ‘Segmentation or competition in China's urban labour market’ Cambridge Journal of Economics 33 79 94 Google Scholar

LEE, G. and WARNER, M. (2004), ‘The Shanghai re-employment model: from local experiment to nation-wide labour market policy’, The China Quarterly, 177, 174-89. ‘The Shanghai re-employment model: from local experiment to nation-wide labour market policy’ The China Quarterly 177 174 89 Google Scholar

MAURER-FAZIO, M. (2006), ‘In books one finds a house of gold: education and labour market outcomes in urban China’, Journal of Contemporary China, 15, 215-31. ‘In books one finds a house of gold: education and labour market outcomes in urban China’ Journal of Contemporary China 15 215 31 Google Scholar

MAURER-FAZIO, M. and DINH, N. (2004), ‘Differential rewards to, and contributions of education in urban China's segmented labour markets’, Pacific Economic Review, 9, 173-89. ‘Differential rewards to, and contributions of education in urban China's segmented labour markets’ Pacific Economic Review 9 173 89 Google Scholar

NAUGHTON, B. (1988), ‘The third front: defence industrialization in the Chinese interior’, The China Quarterly, 115, 351-86. ‘The third front: defence industrialization in the Chinese interior’ The China Quarterly 115 351 86 Google Scholar

NIELSON, I., NYLAND, C., SMYTH, R., ZHANG, M. and ZHU, C. (2006), ‘Effects of intergroup contact on attitudes of Chinese urban residents to migrant workers’, Urban Studies, 43, 475-90. ‘Effects of intergroup contact on attitudes of Chinese urban residents to migrant workers’ Urban Studies 43 475 90 Google Scholar

SCHEVE, K. and SLAUGHTER, M. (2001), ‘Labour market competition and individual preferences over immigration policy’, Review of Economics & Statistics, 83, 133-45. ‘Labour market competition and individual preferences over immigration policy’ Review of Economics & Statistics 83 133 45 Google Scholar

SHANXI PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT (2012), ‘Statistical bulletin’ http://www.sxxz.gov.cn/templet/list_xz.php?id=114 Google Scholar

SOLINGER, D. (1999), Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State and the Logic of the Market, Berkeley, University of California Press. Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State and the Logic of the Market Google Scholar

SOLINGER, D. (2002), ‘Labour market reform and the plight of the laid-off proletariat’, The China Quarterly, 170, 304-26. ‘Labour market reform and the plight of the laid-off proletariat’ The China Quarterly 170 304 26 Google Scholar

TONG, S. (2009), ‘Why privatise or why not? Empirical evidence from China's SOEs reform’, China Economic Review, 20, 402-13. ‘Why privatise or why not? Empirical evidence from China's SOEs reform’ China Economic Review 20 402 13 Google Scholar

WANG, M. Y. (2004), ‘New urban poverty in China: disadvantaged retrenched workers’, International Development Planning Review, 26, 117-39. ‘New urban poverty in China: disadvantaged retrenched workers’ International Development Planning Review 26 117 39 Google Scholar

WANG, M. Y., WEBBER, M. and ZHU, Y. (2002), ‘China's puzzle game: four spatial shifts of development’, in M. Webber, M. Wang and Y. Zhu (eds), China's Transition to a Global Economy, Hampshire, Palgrave McMillan, 113-42. China's Transition to a Global Economy 113 42 Google Scholar

WU, F. and HUANG, N. (2007), ‘New urban poverty in China: economic restructuring and transformation of welfare provision’, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 48, 168-95. ‘New urban poverty in China: economic restructuring and transformation of welfare provision’ Asia Pacific Viewpoint 48 168 95 Google Scholar

WU, J. and WANG, M. (2012, forthcoming), ‘Ethnic migrant workers and emerging ethnic division in urban labour market in China’, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal. ‘Ethnic migrant workers and emerging ethnic division in urban labour market in China’ Asian and Pacific Migration Journal Google Scholar

XU, W., TAN, K. and WANG, G. (2006), ‘Segmented local labor markets in post-reform China: gender earnings inequality in the case of two towns in Zhejiang province’, Environment and Planning A, 38, 85-109. ‘Segmented local labor markets in post-reform China: gender earnings inequality in the case of two towns in Zhejiang province’ Environment and Planning A 38 85 109 Google Scholar

XU, X. (2000), ‘Changes in the Chinese social structure as seen from occupational prestige ratings and job preferences’, China's Sociology, CASS, http://www.csen.cass.cn/upload/2012/11/d20121112163201737.pdf (accessed 10 January 2012). http://www.csen.cass.cn/upload/2012/11/d20121112163201737.pdf ‘Changes in the Chinese social structure as seen from occupational prestige ratings and job preferences’ China's Sociology Google Scholar

ZHAO, Y. (2002), ‘Measuring the social capital of laid-off Chinese workers’, Current Sociology, 50, 555-71. ‘Measuring the social capital of laid-off Chinese workers’ Current Sociology 50 555 71 Google Scholar

ZU, LIANGRONG (2009), Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Restructuring and Firm's Performance: Empirical Evidence from Chinese Enterprises, Heidelberg, Springer-Verlag. Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Restructuring and Firm's Performance: Empirical Evidence from Chinese Enterprises Google Scholar

APPLETON, S., KNIGHT, J., SONG, L. and XIA, Q. (2002), ‘Labour retrenchment in China: determinant and consequences’, China Economic Review, 13, 252-75. ‘Labour retrenchment in China: determinant and consequences’ China Economic Review 13 252 75 Google Scholar

APPLETON, S., KNIGHT, J., SONG, L. and XIA, Q. (2004), ‘Contrasting paradigms: segmentation and competitiveness in the formation of the Chinese labour market’, Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, 2, 185-205. ‘Contrasting paradigms: segmentation and competitiveness in the formation of the Chinese labour market’ Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies 2 185 205 Google Scholar

BAI, C. E., LU, J. Y. and TAO, Z. G. (2006), ‘The multitask theory of state enterprise reform: empirical evidence from China’, The American Economic Review, 96, 353-57. ‘The multitask theory of state enterprise reform: empirical evidence from China’ The American Economic Review 96 353 57 Google Scholar

BAI, L. (2006), ‘Graduate unemployment: dilemmas and challenges in China's move to mass higher education’, The China Quarterly, 185, 128-44. ‘Graduate unemployment: dilemmas and challenges in China's move to mass higher education’ The China Quarterly 185 128 44 Google Scholar

BORJAS, G. (2003), ‘The labour demand curve is downward sloping: re-examining the impact of immigration on the labour market’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118, 1335-74. ‘The labour demand curve is downward sloping: re-examining the impact of immigration on the labour market’ The Quarterly Journal of Economics 118 1335 74 Google Scholar

BRAY, D. (2005), Social Space and Governance in Urban China, The Danwei System from Origins to Reform, Stanford University Press, California. Social Space and Governance in Urban China, The Danwei System from Origins to Reform Google Scholar

CAI, Y. S. (2006), State and Laid-off Workers in Reform China: The Silence and Collective Action of the Retrenched, Abingdon, Routledge. State and Laid-off Workers in Reform China: The Silence and Collective Action of the Retrenched Google Scholar

CHANGCHUN GOVERNMENT (2012), ‘Economy’ www.changchun.gov.cn Google Scholar

CITRIN, J., GREEN, D., MUSTE, C. and WONG, C. (1997), ‘Public opinion toward immigration reform: the role of economic motivations’, The Journal of Politics, 59, 858-81. ‘Public opinion toward immigration reform: the role of economic motivations’ The Journal of Politics 59 858 81 Google Scholar

DONG, X. and BOWLES, P. (2002), ‘Segmentation and Discrimination in China's Emerging Industrial Labour Market’, China Economic Review, 13, 170-96 ‘Segmentation and Discrimination in China's Emerging Industrial Labour Market’ China Economic Review 13 170 96 Google Scholar

FAN, C., HALL, P. and WALL, G. (2009), ‘Migration, Hukou status, and labour-market segmentation: the case of high-tech development in Dalian’, Environment and Planning A, 41, 1647-66. ‘Migration, Hukou status, and labour-market segmentation: the case of high-tech development in Dalian’ Environment and Planning A 41 1647 66 Google Scholar

GARNAUT, R., SONG, L. and YAO, Y. (2006), ‘Impact and significance of state-owned enterprise restructuring’, The China Journal, 55, 35-65 ‘Impact and significance of state-owned enterprise restructuring’ The China Journal 55 35 65 Google Scholar

GIELE, J. and ELDER, G. (1998), Methods of Life Course Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, California, Sage Publications. Methods of Life Course Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches Google Scholar

GOLD, T., HURST, W., WON, J. and LI, Q. (2009), Laid-Off Workers in a Workers' State: Unemployment with Chinese Characteristics, New York, Palgrave Macmillan. Laid-Off Workers in a Workers' State: Unemployment with Chinese Characteristics Google Scholar

GU, E. (1999), ‘From permanent employment to massive layoffs: the political economy of "transitional unemployment" in urban China (1993-8)’, Economy and Society, 28, 281-99. ‘From permanent employment to massive layoffs: the political economy of "transitional unemployment" in urban China (1993-8)’ Economy and Society 28 281 99 Google Scholar

GUIHEUX, G. (2007), ‘The Promotion of a New Calculating Chinese Subject: The Case of Laid-off Workers Turning into Entrepreneurs’, Journal of Contemporary China, 50, 149-71. ‘The Promotion of a New Calculating Chinese Subject: The Case of Laid-off Workers Turning into Entrepreneurs’ Journal of Contemporary China 50 149 71 Google Scholar

HE, S., WU, F., WEBSTER, C. and LIU, Y. (2010), ‘Poverty concentration and determinants in China's urban low-income neighbourhoods and social groups’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 34, 328-49. ‘Poverty concentration and determinants in China's urban low-income neighbourhoods and social groups’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 34 328 49 Google Scholar

HU, A. (2007), Economic and Social Transformation in China: Challenges and Opportunities, Abingdon, Routledge. Economic and Social Transformation in China: Challenges and Opportunities Google Scholar

HURST, W. (2004), ‘Understanding contentious collective action by Chinese laid-off workers: the importance of regional political economy’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 39, 94-120. ‘Understanding contentious collective action by Chinese laid-off workers: the importance of regional political economy’ Studies in Comparative International Development 39 94 120 Google Scholar

JOHNSTON, M. and ALVAREZ, R. (2008), ‘Social networks and stratification in the urban Chinese labour market: the case of laid-off textile workers and their officials in the Tianjin municipality’, Sociological Inquiry, 78, 490-512. ‘Social networks and stratification in the urban Chinese labour market: the case of laid-off textile workers and their officials in the Tianjin municipality’ Sociological Inquiry 78 490 512 Google Scholar

KNIGHT, J. and YUEH, L. (2009), ‘Segmentation or competition in China's urban labour market’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 33, 79-94. ‘Segmentation or competition in China's urban labour market’ Cambridge Journal of Economics 33 79 94 Google Scholar

LEE, G. and WARNER, M. (2004), ‘The Shanghai re-employment model: from local experiment to nation-wide labour market policy’, The China Quarterly, 177, 174-89. ‘The Shanghai re-employment model: from local experiment to nation-wide labour market policy’ The China Quarterly 177 174 89 Google Scholar

MAURER-FAZIO, M. (2006), ‘In books one finds a house of gold: education and labour market outcomes in urban China’, Journal of Contemporary China, 15, 215-31. ‘In books one finds a house of gold: education and labour market outcomes in urban China’ Journal of Contemporary China 15 215 31 Google Scholar

MAURER-FAZIO, M. and DINH, N. (2004), ‘Differential rewards to, and contributions of education in urban China's segmented labour markets’, Pacific Economic Review, 9, 173-89. ‘Differential rewards to, and contributions of education in urban China's segmented labour markets’ Pacific Economic Review 9 173 89 Google Scholar

NAUGHTON, B. (1988), ‘The third front: defence industrialization in the Chinese interior’, The China Quarterly, 115, 351-86. ‘The third front: defence industrialization in the Chinese interior’ The China Quarterly 115 351 86 Google Scholar

NIELSON, I., NYLAND, C., SMYTH, R., ZHANG, M. and ZHU, C. (2006), ‘Effects of intergroup contact on attitudes of Chinese urban residents to migrant workers’, Urban Studies, 43, 475-90. ‘Effects of intergroup contact on attitudes of Chinese urban residents to migrant workers’ Urban Studies 43 475 90 Google Scholar

SCHEVE, K. and SLAUGHTER, M. (2001), ‘Labour market competition and individual preferences over immigration policy’, Review of Economics & Statistics, 83, 133-45. ‘Labour market competition and individual preferences over immigration policy’ Review of Economics & Statistics 83 133 45 Google Scholar

SHANXI PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT (2012), ‘Statistical bulletin’ http://www.sxxz.gov.cn/templet/list_xz.php?id=114 Google Scholar

SOLINGER, D. (1999), Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State and the Logic of the Market, Berkeley, University of California Press. Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State and the Logic of the Market Google Scholar

SOLINGER, D. (2002), ‘Labour market reform and the plight of the laid-off proletariat’, The China Quarterly, 170, 304-26. ‘Labour market reform and the plight of the laid-off proletariat’ The China Quarterly 170 304 26 Google Scholar

TONG, S. (2009), ‘Why privatise or why not? Empirical evidence from China's SOEs reform’, China Economic Review, 20, 402-13. ‘Why privatise or why not? Empirical evidence from China's SOEs reform’ China Economic Review 20 402 13 Google Scholar

WANG, M. Y. (2004), ‘New urban poverty in China: disadvantaged retrenched workers’, International Development Planning Review, 26, 117-39. ‘New urban poverty in China: disadvantaged retrenched workers’ International Development Planning Review 26 117 39 Google Scholar

WANG, M. Y., WEBBER, M. and ZHU, Y. (2002), ‘China's puzzle game: four spatial shifts of development’, in M. Webber, M. Wang and Y. Zhu (eds), China's Transition to a Global Economy, Hampshire, Palgrave McMillan, 113-42. China's Transition to a Global Economy 113 42 Google Scholar

WU, F. and HUANG, N. (2007), ‘New urban poverty in China: economic restructuring and transformation of welfare provision’, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 48, 168-95. ‘New urban poverty in China: economic restructuring and transformation of welfare provision’ Asia Pacific Viewpoint 48 168 95 Google Scholar

WU, J. and WANG, M. (2012, forthcoming), ‘Ethnic migrant workers and emerging ethnic division in urban labour market in China’, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal. ‘Ethnic migrant workers and emerging ethnic division in urban labour market in China’ Asian and Pacific Migration Journal Google Scholar

XU, W., TAN, K. and WANG, G. (2006), ‘Segmented local labor markets in post-reform China: gender earnings inequality in the case of two towns in Zhejiang province’, Environment and Planning A, 38, 85-109. ‘Segmented local labor markets in post-reform China: gender earnings inequality in the case of two towns in Zhejiang province’ Environment and Planning A 38 85 109 Google Scholar

XU, X. (2000), ‘Changes in the Chinese social structure as seen from occupational prestige ratings and job preferences’, China's Sociology, CASS, http://www.csen.cass.cn/upload/2012/11/d20121112163201737.pdf (accessed 10 January 2012). http://www.csen.cass.cn/upload/2012/11/d20121112163201737.pdf ‘Changes in the Chinese social structure as seen from occupational prestige ratings and job preferences’ China's Sociology Google Scholar

ZHAO, Y. (2002), ‘Measuring the social capital of laid-off Chinese workers’, Current Sociology, 50, 555-71. ‘Measuring the social capital of laid-off Chinese workers’ Current Sociology 50 555 71 Google Scholar

ZU, LIANGRONG (2009), Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Restructuring and Firm's Performance: Empirical Evidence from Chinese Enterprises, Heidelberg, Springer-Verlag. Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Restructuring and Firm's Performance: Empirical Evidence from Chinese Enterprises Google Scholar

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Author details

Gomersall, Kathryn

Wang, Mark