LU research finds 40% of young people consider themselves poor and minimum wage should rise to $71.60
Young people’s opportunities to move up in society, and how to help those from impoverished backgrounds, have always concerned the general public and particularly the education sector. But what are the challenges and difficulties young people from poor families face in terms of employment?
From May to December 2022, the Lingnan University’s research team on youth employment and poverty conducted in-depth interviews and questionnaires with young people, and working on low salaries, in order to better understand their income and necessary expenses (including food, clothes, housing, transport, entertainment, education, and medical care), and learn their opinions on employment, poverty, and policies related to their daily lives.
Photo: The research team reported the survey findings on 7 March 2023 at the seminar “How low is the minimum wage? Report on Employment Dilemmas of the Poor New Generation”.
Nearly 90% of the interviewees have a bachelor's degree or have completed an associate degree programme, but the median income of the 417 young people surveyed by questionnaire was HK$ 6,000 to 9,99 per month, and that of the 67 in-depth interviewees was HK$ 15,200. Their average personal living expenses were about HK$16,800 per month. The research team therefore concluded that, based on the assumption of eight working hours per day and 26 working days per month, the minimum wage per hour, in order to meet their current living expenses, should be increased to HK$71.60, which is way above the local statutory minimum wage of HK$40 per hour as from 1 May 2023.
Prof Leung Shi-chi, Assistant Professor (Research) of the Department of Cultural Studies, pointed out that more and more young people in Hong Kong are living in poverty despite their high academic qualifications. This problem is getting worse, but in its blueprint for youth development the Hong Kong government attempts to open up avenues for the young in academic, employment, entrepreneurial, and housing sectors. Prof Leung believes that young people need help in a wide variety of areas, including career advancement and independent living facilities. "We need enough space to talk about dreams. Otherwise, everything is just empty talk. We worry that young people in Hong Kong do not dare to dream of a future because poverty remains an obstacle."
In response to media inquiries, Prof Pun Ngai, Head and Chair Professor of the Department of Cultural Studies Department, said that compared with similar research she had conducted in Mainland China, young people there are more easily able to do nothing, but in Hong Kong young people cannot. They are under considerable pressure at work, and work very long hours. Prof Pun said that some people work 16 hours a day at two or even three jobs in order to earn a monthly income of not even HK$20,000 to meet their living expenses. She said "If you ask why the Hong Kong young cannot bear hardship, you must first understand the kind of hardship they already suffer."
Compared with other parts of Asia, and even Mainland China, Hong Kong's labour protection is inadequate. There are no standard working hours, nor are there retirement or unemployment benefits. The research team believes that Hong Kong needs a comprehensive review of its minimum wage policy, and should also look at fundamental changes in youth and labour policies. Team member Mr Yang Haocheng said: "Among the young people we surveyed, those on a low income are not covered by the existing social security system, and often have to face the precariousness of the labour market. This reflects the double problem of Hong Kong's long-standing and incomplete social security system, and the short-term mismatch between youth policies and needs."
In recent years, more and more young people have become self-employed or freelancers, and the research team will conduct studies related to them in the future as well as quantitative studies on the impact of the statutory minimum wage in Hong Kong since its implementation in 2011, hoping that the conclusions will lead to changes in policy, and encourage related sectors to adopt cultural changes and guidelines.