The Nameless Factory Worker
This is where many young village girls end up if they leave the family farm. China has thousands of factories that manufacture every product known to man (and some that are not known). These factories employ a mostly female workforce because women are easier to control.
The workers are paid an average of 1000RMB per month plus housing and food. Since these factories are huge and the only things near by are more factories, there’s really no where for the girls to spend their money. Most will send the funds back home to help their families.
The jobs are very repetitive and I’m sure extremely boring. However, it pays many times more than working on the farm back home. Add in the fact that the living costs are zero since the company provides food and housing and the girls find themselves in a situation many American workers can’t seem to reach – positive cash flow.
The Nameless City Worker
Jobs in the city pay more than jobs at the factories. However, the cost of living in the city is much higher as well. It’s not uncommon to find 4 or 5 people sharing a small apartment. Most unskilled jobs in Shanghai pay 1000 to 2000 RMB per month. Because of the low wages for unskilled workers, business create a lot of redundancy by employing a bunch of them. The restaurant industry is a prime example. They’ll have multiple greeters at the door and who knows how many more waiters inside. On our train ride to Suzhou, there was a greeter at every single train car.
While the unskilled city worker may have access to far more entertainment choices than one of the 250,000 workers at the iPod factory, they generally don’t make enough to really entertain themselves.
The English Speaking Worker
In a city like Shanghai, being able to speak English opens up a world of new possibilities for the Chinese worker. Speaking English also means more money – 3000 to 5000 RMB per month. For example, in order to work at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai, all employees (except cleaning staff) must be able to speak English or another language. The Grand Hyatt pays a lot more than a local hotel. Then again, they charge a ton more too!
A worker can make more money if he has a collage education. However, even if the worker is unskilled, as long as he can speak English, he’s worth more than three times an unskilled worker.
The Western Educated Worker
At the high end of the working class is the western educated worker. An English speaking employee with a western education is highly prized in China. Wages start at 17,500 RMB per month and many times, the company will pay for all or part of the housing cost. In a country where the average factory wage is 1,000RMB per month, starting at 17,500 puts these workers in a very elite class.
It used to be that most western educated Chinese student would stay in the West after graduation because the opportunities are greater. However, this is no longer the case and most students now choose to return home after getting their degree. Look at it this way. A new grad will make the same wage working in the US or China. However, the wage of the new grad in the US isn’t 17.5 times greater than the average US factory worker. Chances are, the US factory worker makes more than the grad.
The great need for educated employees has allowed many US and Canadian citizens to seek work in China. You can expect your wages to be about the same as what you would make working at home. However, because the cost of living is so much lower, you can live pretty high on the hog. That is, as long as you stay away from Pudong.