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Schermafdruk 2019 01 21 19.07.03GUANGDONG, South China — At 6 a.m., the pounding of construction-site machines in Shenzhen signals the start of a new day. In the canteen, 47-year old cook Tan Song’an is busy preparing food for his colleagues — mostly migrant workers from other parts of China. Tan, a migrant worker himself, never imagined that he’d spend most of his life here. In 1991, he left his village in rural Chongqing in southwestern China and traveled four days to find work in Shenzhen. As part of the so-called first generation of migrant workers, Tan’s labor helped his family escape poverty and transformed Shenzhen from a backwater into a shining beacon of economic development. But as he moves into the twilight of his working years, Tan is facing another problem: Years of casual labor, combined with complex and intransigent government policy, means he is unlikely to receive a healthy pension when he retires. Other migrants, having spent decades constructing the megacities of China’s economic boom, will live out their days on paltry state stipends back in their hometowns. China’s first-generation migrant workers are edging closer to retirement age, defined as 60 for men and 50 for most women. (Female civil servants retire at 55.) Government statistics show that the number of migrant workers over 50 is growing rapidly, from around 40 million in 2012 to more than 61 million last year. However, less than a quarter of Chinese migrant workers pay into so-called social insurance schemes — Chinese pension plans — and few have enough in private savings to live comfortably after retirement. As a result, millions of migrants face futures that seem unnervingly similar to their impoverished pasts. Of the 10 long-term migrant workers Sixth Tone interviewed for this story, only one plans to stay in Shenzhen after retirement, because his children have acquired permanent residency in the city. None saythat Shenzhen feels like home. A common refrain is the feeling that the city is giving hardworking long-term migrants the cold shoulder as they approach the tail end of their careers. “Shenzhen didn’t just grow naturally into what it is now,” Tan says. “It was built with the blood and sweat of . . . . . read more in Sixth Tone Photo" Cai Yiwen/Sixth Tone

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