Macao works to help lower income residents improve lives

Global Business

Macao has the world’s fourth highest GDP per capita, and its gaming industry now seven times larger than Las Vegas. But not everyone is getting rich at the same speed and scale. Over the past years, the region has tried to develop a strong social welfare system to bridge the gap. CCTV America’s Han Peng reported this story from Macao.

Mr. Leung is a school bus driver in Macao and the only breadwinner in his family.

After years on the waiting list, he and his family are overwhelmed to land a place in public housing.

For them, it’s a huge improvement from their previous home, which was no more than an iron shelter erected on the top of an old building.

“It was unbearably hot in the summer, and when typhoons came, we always feared that the shelter would be blown away. It also leaked a lot,” Mrs. Leung said.

Although their new home in public housing is still cramped and far from downtown, the family is thankful that it costs just one-seventh the market price with government funding.

Over the past 15 years, Macao’s housing prices have skyrocketed over ten times to about 130,000 RMB per square meter, or around $22,000. But the average monthly income of the city is about 12,000 RMB, or $1,930. For the average Macao resident, this means that after working 10 months and not spending anything, he or she can only purchase one-square-meter of space, about the size of a manhole cover.

Having affordable housing has become a dream for many Macao residents. But not everyone is as lucky as Leung. At the moment, there are only 45,000 units available, far behind the number of families in need.

“Construction is always delayed. Some of my friends have been approved and promised public housing for a long time, but their apartments are still under construction. The government is making a lot of money from the gaming industry. We don’t understand why they are so inefficient,” Macao resident Coeng Manman said.

Macao boasts the largest gaming market in the world and collects a 30 percent tax from casinos. That money has gone towards balancing the social income gap, including building more public housing and also handing out direct payments to residents. Locals have nicknamed these payments “the red packets”.

Since 2008, Macao’s government has given each permanent resident 5,000 patacas, or $670 per year. The sum was increased over the years to 9,000 patacas, or $1,127, in 2014, and will rise again to 10,000 patacas, or $1,252 next year.

But some officials question whether the current way of balancing the gap is the best way.

“The government continues to raise its investment in social welfare for ordinary people, but the income gap is still there if we only rely on gaming industry. Meanwhile, we have already seen a decline in the tax revenue from gaming over the past six months. That’s also raised concerns over the sustainability of the current welfare system,” an official at Macao social security fund Ip Pengkin said.

For ordinary people like Leung, life is getting better. But they said what they really hope to see is a more diversified economy in Macao, in which people who are not in the gaming business can also have an equal chance to earn a decent income, without waiting for government help.

Macao works to help lower income residents improve lives

Macao has the world’s fourth highest GDP per capita, and its gaming industry now seven times larger than Las Vegas. But not everyone is getting rich at the same speed and scale. Over the past years, the region has tried to develop a strong social welfare system to bridge the gap. CCTV America’s Han Peng reported this story from Macao.


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