China has the largest labor force in the world. According to Chinese official data, over 700 million people were employed by the end of 1990s. More than half of its labor force is engaged in agriculture, although that sector accounts for less than 20 percent of China's GDP. In other words, China's agricultural labor force is over 100 times as large as its U.S. counterpart. By the middle of the 1990s, most of China's urban workers were employed in state-owned enterprises (SOEs). In the 1990s, China's increasingly dynamic service sector employed more workers than industrial enterprises for each of the last 3 years. Latest sources from the State Statistics Bureau show that 6.4 percent of labor force in rural China shifted to the country's secondary and tertiary industries in 1999. With 0.5 percent of its rural labor force having made a change in their life from agricultural to non-agricultural labor, the net shifting amount of rural labor force was placed at 5.9 percent of the rural total, up 0.4 percent over the same period in 1998. According to one official survey, as many as 50 million people leave rural areas in search of urban jobs every year. Of this number, approximately 30 million people leave their home provinces.
Shifting labor forces experienced a big rise in proportion on a provincial, regional, or municipal scale. About 79 percent of surplus labor force became locally employed in the industrial and service sectors in the country in 1999, up 11 percentage points over 1998. East China remains the hottest destination for drawing rural laborers, although more people began to focus on west China. Among the rural laborers leaving their native place to seek employment in other provinces, 79.8 percent headed for the East in 1999, down 2.5 percentage points compared with the same period of 1998. About 10 percent chose central China for employment, up 0.6 percentage points. More than 10.2 percent went to the country's west, up 1.9 percentage points over 1998. Most of the laborers are young or people in their prime. People ages 18 to 40 accounted for 77.3 percent. Of these, 57.9 percent were between 18 and 30 years of age.