China's Robin Hood housing marketMarch 27, 2012: 2:32 PM ET
China's booming economy is giving to the poor and taking from the rich when it comes to housing.
Some 14% of both the rich and the poor said they had trouble affording shelter in 2011, according to a recent Gallup survey. That's a dramatic change for each group in recent years, but the shifts were in opposite directions.
For the poor, 14% is half the percentage of people who didn't have enough money to afford housing just three years earlier and down from 17% in 2009. This is likely thanks to the recovery from the global economic crisis and some help from the Chinese government.
The rich, on the other hand, have been squeezed by China's powerful economic engine. The share of the wealthiest Chinese who had trouble affording housing more than doubled as real estate prices skyrocketed in the country's largest cities. Only 6% of China's richest had problems affording housing in 2009.
But when it comes to affording food, both China's poor and wealthy appear to be reaping rewards from the expansion in China's economy. Only 6% of the poor said they couldn't buy food in 2011, down from 23% in 2008. And only 2% of the rich were in the same boat, down from 10% three years earlier.
Even the rural Chinese, whose income is less than one-third that of city dwellers, are benefiting from the country's rapid economic growth. Just 7% said they had trouble affording food in 2011, down from 20% in 2008.
Gallup also points out that the Chinese government has taken steps to avoid social unrest among the poor, implementing a rural subsistence allowance and subsidies to offset rising food prices in recent years.
However, there are growing concerns around the world that China's biggest economic problem may now be slowing growth and not inflation. If China is unable to engineer a so-called soft landing, housing prices could fall a lot further. But that may not be something to cheer. Just ask anyone in the U.S.