CASS-SSRC Seminar Series: Migration, Social Development and Social Protection in China and the US

Beijing, China

The goal of this seminar series was to bring together Chinese and US social scientists from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to explore social issues that are a challenge in both countries. In addition to developing new insights into specific issues through shared analysis of existing data and research findings, the project fostered a better mutual understanding by Chinese and American scholars of the factors that shape social change and policymaking in the two countries. These include historical contexts, institutional arrangements (for example, center-local relations), and interministry and interest group dynamics that shape the way in which issues are framed and addressed in particular policy sectors. This project was a collaboration between the SSRC and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). The meeting in April 2014 was the fourth and final meeting of the group.

The topic of the first series has been migration, social development, and social protection. Population migration and urbanization are issues of great concern in both China and the United States. Both countries are currently undergoing demographic transitions that present the challenge of integrating large numbers of low-skilled labor migrants and their children into urban contexts. In the United States this mostly involves international migrants from Central and South American and other less developed regions, while in China massive rural migration is the major issue. Although processes of internal and international migration are rarely considered in comparative perspective, they in fact present very similar challenges for social policy, and success in meeting these challenges will be crucial to economic viability, social cohesion, and cultural vitality in both countries. As a result, migration is high on the agenda of both the Chinese and US governments. In addition to contemporary challenges, the historical experience of the United States during its own transition to urbanization and industrialization offers some interesting insights for China.

Because a considerable amount of work has already been done on some of the purely economic aspects of migration (including remittances, contributions of migration to GDP and poverty alleviation, informal labor markets, etc.), our group decided to focus on issues of social development and social protection, including the specific policy sectors of education, health, and pensions. Across these issue areas, our discussions have centered on some core questions, including:

  • What is the state of and variation in access to social protection for immigrants and migrants in China and the United States? What factors account for this variation?
  • How do access to social protection and social inclusion relate to debates about the nature of citizenship in the two contexts?
  • How aligned are policy goals, the content of policy, and policy implementation across different levels and sectors of government in the United States and China?
  • How are patterns of inclusion and exclusion, and related policies, shaped by the historical development of institutions and of policy?
  • What are the conditions under which more progressive policy shifts regarding immigrants and migrants have occurred and which factors have fueled retrenchment and exclusion?

Funding for the CASS-SSRC Common Concerns Seminar Series was provided by the Ford Foundation.