BEIJING -- China's urban population surged to 607 million with an urbanization rate of 45.7 percent at the end of 2008, a social researcher revealed Monday.
The urban population had increased by 148 million since 2000, almost level with the rural population in the world's most populous nation with 1.3 billion people, according to Shan Jingjing of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
In the early 1980s, the rural population accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total.
The urban surge reflected economic growth and internal labor movements, including 130 million migrant workers who left rural homes to work in the cities, said Shan, who is also vice editor-in-chief of the Blue Book of Cities in China, published by the CASS on Monday.
According to the blue book, China has 118 megalopolises of more than 1 million people, and 39 such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang are super metropolises of more than 2 million residents.
Compared with the 2000 figures derived from China's fifth census, urban citizens covered by basic medical insurance had increased 93.87 million, basic pension insurance participants increased 17.53 million, unemployment insurance participants increased 7.55 million, employment injury insurance participants increased 16.37 million and maternity insurants increased 14.06 million.
Urbanization had not narrowed income gaps. According to the blue book, the urban:rural income ratio averaged about 5 in 2008 by contrast with the gap in 2000 when the ratio was 2.79, said Wei Houkai, co-editor-in-chief of the blue book.
With rapid urbanization, China was also encountering surging challenges amid the global downturn, which has had a serious impact on the economy, the book warned.
"One of the challenges will be unemployment," Shan said. "According to research on 15 enterprises in five provinces, job vacancies have decreased by 5.3 percent since the end of March."
The unemployment situation would be worsened by China's huge labor pool with an annual 15 million new job hunters and some 6 million college graduates this summer, Shan said.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture in March, there were 11 million unemployed migrant workers.
But the book also mentioned that a CASS survey conducted in Jiangxi, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Guangdong Provinces after this year's lunar new year (late January-early February) found that the migrant return rate was not as high as media reports claimed.