An aging population, changes in industrial structure, and rising unemployment mean that it is becoming ever harder to make a living, and the situation has been aggravated by financial woes in Europe and the United States. The number of households living below the poverty line is growing all over the world, and Taiwan is no exception.
San Gee, vice minister of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, explains that the increasing use of machinery and high technology has eroded the need for labor, and the diversification of manufacturing has changed the structure of employment; as a result, there is a growing demand for part-time or temporary workers instead of permanent ones. The lower wages earned by part-time and temporary workers are believed to be one of the major factors contributing to the rising number of poor people and the expanding gap between the poor and the rich.
San reports that Taiwan's government has decided to allocate a social welfare budget of more than NT$400 billion (US$13.33 billion)—the highest ever—next year to help deal with the poverty problem.
Recent statistics compiled by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) show that the number of households living below the poverty line in Taiwan reached a record 114,000 (containing a total of 270,000 members) in the second quarter of this year, up from 112,000 households at the end of 2010 and 105,000 at the end of 2009.
The MOI attributes the growing number of the poor to the explosive growth of non-permanent employment and the increasing number of the hidden jobless (unemployed people who are not reflected in the statistics because of the way the statistics are collected), a situation which is made worse as fresh college graduates try to stay on campus to avoid the pressure of finding jobs.
A senior MOI official explains that three criteria are used to determine if a family is living in poverty: family income, movable property, and real property. The criteria vary according to location; a family in Taipei, for example, is considered to be living under the poverty line if its per-capita income is under NT$14,794 (US$493.13) per month, if each of its members has bank savings of less than NT$150,000 (US$5,000) on average, and if the value of real estate owned by the household is less than NT$5.5 million (US$183,333).
The deteriorating global economic climate has struck a blow at Taiwan's export-oriented economy in recent years, weakening the island's job market and pushing more and more people beneath the poverty line. To help the growing number of the poor, the government completed a revision of the Public Assistance Act late last year.
The main purpose of the Public Assistance Act is to take care of low- and middle-income households, assist people in need during disasters or other emergency situations, and help people be independent.
The new criteria contained in the revised law will surely boost he number of households below the poverty line; and, the MOI estimates, the number of people eligible for welfare assistance from the government will expand to more than 850,000.
The MOI divides sub-poverty-line households into three categories. The number of those in the first category—households with no income and no property—has remained steady at 4,000 over the past 10 years, while the number of those in the third category—households with incomes below the established minimum plus a little savings—has doubled to more than 80,000.
People from poor families generally face greater difficulties finding permanent jobs; the work they are offered is often temporary or part-time, and the pay is very low. Such people usually have very meager living standards, and cannot even afford to rent homes to live in. The government hopes that the revised Public Assistance Act will help to alleviate their troubles.
(by Judy Li)