by Xinhua writer Zhao Ying
BEIJING, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Li Hui gets a bit upset after reading news about possibly delaying employees' retirement. The 47-year-old accounting manager's dream of having no work pressure and enjoying a happy life after the age of 50 seems unrealistic.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS) said earlier this year that it was conducting research into a more flexible retirement and pension system that allows people to continue working older than the current retirement age of 60 for men and 55 for female.
"I oppose delaying the retirement age," said Li, who works for a Japanese-funded company in Shanghai, "since the work pressure is huge and I have to spend three hours commuting on work days."
"(Retiring at) 50 is my bottom line," she said.
The current retirement rules took effect more than six decades ago, when the average life expectancy was around 50.
The upward revision of retirement age will be "an inevitable trend" as the national economy grows and people live longer, the MOHRSS said.
Chinese people's average life expectancy currently stands at 73.5 years and the figure is expected to grow to 74.5 by 2015. Although no detailed plan has been made public, experts say revisions may include delaying retirement age or time for retirees to collect their pension savings.
He Ping, director of the Social Security Research Institute under the MOHRSS, has made a proposal to lift the retirement age to 65 before 2045.
Online polls at popular news portals like sina.com and people.cn have received overwhelmingly negative comments against such proposals.
Many voters said the revisions would only benefit officials, who enjoy preferential administrative and economic treatment. "My health condition may not allow me to travel a lot in my 60's," said Chen Xin, a 40-year-old employee of a logistics company in Beijing.
He noticed that the senior management of his company were in favor of working longer as their monthly salary stands at about 8,000 yuan (1,256 U.S. dollars) on average, almost doubling the pension.
Huang Shujing, 60, a pre-school education expert from central China's Hubei Province, supported the age revision.
"It's a pity to give up my expertise and experience over the years, and I think many female teachers or doctors are quite willing to work older than 60," she said.
Delaying retirement will definitely put more pressure on unemployment, said Lu Jianghai, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Labor Studies.
Serious social problems could flare up if the government fails to create more opportunities for job hunters, Lu said.
China's urban registered unemployment rate remains unchanged for the eighth straight quarter at 4.1 percent at the end of June, according to MOHRSS statistics. The figure sits below the government's target of 4.6 percent set for this year.
China creates between 10 and 12 million jobs annually, one third of which are vacancies left by retirees.
Analysts say financial pressure and the fact that people are living longer are the reasons behind the proposals, as an increasing number of Chinese will be retiring in the coming years and claiming their pensions.
A study by the Bank of China (BOC) and the Deutsche Bank shows that the ageing population will leave China with a shortfall of 18.3 trillion yuan in pension funds by 2013 and create a heavy fiscal burden for the government.
Under the existing pension system, each employee pays eight percent of his or her salary into an individual pension account, while employers add another 20 percent into such individual accounts.
If every employee in China works one extra year, pension funds would be boosted by more than four billion yuan, while pension payments would be reduced by 16 trillion yuan, said Zheng Bingwen, head of the Social Security Research Center at Renmin University.
If the retirement age was raised to 65, China's workforce would be increased by 25 percent and the number of retirees cut by 28 percent, Zheng said.
Latest data shows that the number of people aged 60 or above reached about 185 million nationwide at the end of 2011. The number of the aged above 65 is expected to rise to 323 million, or almost one fourth of the country's population, by 2050.
A large portion of netizens opposed delaying retirement due to a strong sense that they would not receive enough pension funds when they retire.
"A pension deficit does exist, but the government is well-equipped to solve the problem," said Fan Jianping, chief economist of the State Information Center.
He said the government can replenish the pension balance with the huge number of state-owned assets, bonuses and dividends from state-owned enterprises, if necessary.
By the end of last year, aggregate government fiscal subsidies for pensions amounted to 1.25 trillion yuan through the transfer of pension insurance payments.
Officials said the ongoing studies about retirement do not mean that an immediate policy change would take place, but revisions would be carried out in accordance with economic and social changes.
For some, life becomes splendid after retirement, whereas it is at its worst for others.
For Zhou Xiuyun, 62, life is not always joyful. She lives alone in Beijing after her husband died nearly 10 years ago. Her only son works in the southern city of Shenzhen and visits her once a year.
China introduced family planning policy more than 30 years ago, which makes an estimated number of 400 million not to be born.
However, an ageing population, along with shrinking family sizes, has made supporting the elderly a bigger burden, said Zhang Xuezhong, deputy chair of the National People's Congress Committee for Internal and Judicial affairs.
In China, there has long been a tradition that adult children should support their parents when they get old. It is especially the case for rural people who have yet to be covered by the social security network.
However, the increasing migration triggered by urbanization and hope for better life left many parents at home with no children to rely on.
Many old people have to take care of themselves despite of physical inconvenience or pay for nursing services at home.
Others go into nursing home for old people but the waiting lists of reliable organizations are usually long.
In late June, a draft revision to the law on protecting senior citizens' rights and interests was submitted to the national legislature in response to the challenges brought about by an ageing society.
The law has not been revised since being enacted in 1996.
Based on the draft revision, government administrations at all levels are required to guarantee funding for projects concerning welfare of citizens.
China currently has more than 20 million people aged 80 or above and about 33 million seniors who need assistance or nursing, Deputy Chair Zhang said.
By 2030, China will overtake Japan to become the world's most ageing society, according to a report published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2010.
Zhou expected a stronger community that provides assistance to cooking, housekeeping, medical care, transport and entertainment for residents.
"Efficient social support can make our life easier and relieve the burden of our children," she said.