BEIJING, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- China's first release of a rich-poor index for the past decade paints a far-from-rosy picture of what the country needs to do to bridge the wealth gap and make more people included in its magnificent growth story.
Ma Jiantang, director of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), told a press conference here on Friday that the Gini coefficient reached 0.474 in China in 2012, higher than the warning level of 0.4 set by the United Nations.
The index has retreated gradually since peaking at 0.491 in 2008, dropping to 0.49 in 2009, 0.481 in 2010 and 0.477 in 2011, Ma said, citing NBS calculations.
The latest release marked the first time China announced an official broad-based Gini coefficient since 2000, when the government put the index at 0.412 for the year.
"The statistics highlighted the urgency for our country to speed up the income distribution reforms to narrow the gap," Ma said.
FIRST OFFICIAL RELEASE SINCE 2000
Although experts and the public had called for the authority to unveil the index for the entire country in the past, the NBS had only released the Gini coefficient for rural residents due to a lack of unified survey standards in rural and urban areas.
"In the past two years, we have revised the earlier survey methods that separated rural and urban residents," Ma said.
Last December, the NBS adopted unified statistical standards and indicators for collecting data from urban and rural residents, and it calculated the latest Gini coefficient based on a survey of about 400,000 households, Ma said.
According to the new standards, the bureau also adjusted historical data and came up with the Gini coefficients for 2003 to 2011, Ma added.
Liu Yuanchun, an economist with Renmin University of China, said the results from the NBS are close to past World Bank data, which recorded China's 2008 Gini coefficient at 0.474.
At the conference, Ma also offered comparison data for several other countries -- Argentina at 0.46 in 2009, Mexico at 4.48 in 2008, and India at 0.33 in 2005.