Hong Kong’s Poverty Rate at Record High

Hong Kong’s Poverty Rate at Record High
A man sleeps in front of a store for lease in the Central district in Hong Kong on March 15, 2022. (Kin Cheung/AP Photo)
Winnie Han

Poverty and unemployment in Hong Kong have reached a record high, and the national minimum wage has been frozen for the past three years. One political commentator blames the Chinese Communist Party for the current situation.

Contrary to many countries that have raised the minimum wage to counter the negative impact of COVID-19, Hong Kong’s minimum wage rate has remained at HK$37.50 (about $4.80) since May 1, 2019—the lowest among the “Four Asian Tigers”: Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore.

Taiwan’s minimum wage is about $5.70, while South Korea’s is $7.32. Although Singapore does not have a minimum wage, workers get paid at least $10 per hour based on a 44-hour work week, and the minimum monthly salary for mid-level skilled workers is about $1,800, according to the Employment Permit Program for Foreign Prospective Professionals and Technicians.

Hong Kong’s biennial review system means minimum wage workers won’t get a raise until May next year.

Minimum Wage Discussion

On May 31, Hong Kong’s Minimum Wage Commission concluded its public consultation. Many representatives from various work groups called for raising the minimum wage between HK$40 and HK$50 (about $5.10 and $6.40).

Lee Cheuk-yan, a labor movement leader sentenced to prison for participating in an unauthorized rally, called to raise the minimum wage to at least HK$50 and to shorten the review period from two years to one year.

However, Law Chi-kwong, secretary for Labor and Welfare, rejected Lee’s proposal. Before the review period expired, Law wrote in a blog, “It is not feasible to review the minimum wage once a year since the review process requires plenty of researching, analyzing, and consulting work.”

Lee also criticized the commission, claiming that the official data does not reflect the current economic situation and the growing wealth gap, and authorities ignore the needs of the people.

Former Chief Executive Carrie Lam earned an annual salary of HK$5,210,400 (about $664,000), ranking second among global and regional leaders.

Furthermore, John Lee Ka-chiu, the current chief executive, proposed a restructuring of the government that the Executive Council recently approved. The government will have 13 more politically-appointed officials and 57 civil service posts, adding an extra HK$95 million (about $12.18 million) in salary costs to the budget.

Jimmy Kwok Chun-wah, honorary president of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, said on a Hong Kong radio program that the minimum wage should remain due to economic uncertainty.

“We should provide more breathing time to employers since it is still unknown whether there will be a new wave of the pandemic,” he said.

Widening Wealth Gap Under CCP Control

Politics and current affairs commentator Ji Da told The Epoch Times that since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has expanded its control over Hong Kong, the financial hub went from being the top Asian Tiger and one of the wealthiest cities in the world to now having a widening wealth gap and low minimum wage.

Out of the Four Asian Tigers, Hong Kong was the first to exceed the GDP per capita threshold of $10,000 in 1988, ahead of Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea by one, four, and six years, respectively. But since 2004, Singapore has caught up and overtaken Hong Kong.

For many years, Hong Kong has ranked among the world’s top three cities with the most billionaire residents. According to a Forbes report, Hong Kong ranked second in the world in 2019 and 2020, with 79 and 71 billionaires, respectively. It ranked third place with 80 billionaires in 2021. But the number of billionaires dropped to 68 this year.

In 2020, the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report recorded at least 1.6 million people living in poverty, with the poverty rate at 23.6 percent. The working poor rate was 13.6 percent. Unemployment figures reached a 17-year high of 5.4 percent.

In August 2021, Secretary for Labor and Welfare Law Chi-kwong admitted that Hong Kong’s widening wealth gap is an indisputable fact.

Winnie Han reports on China news for The Epoch Times.
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