A newly coined phrase referring to those whose consumption exceeds their income has recently gone viral. An "invisible poverty-stricken population" describes people who spend lavishly on food and clothes, buy the latest mobile phone models, and frequently travel, but have no savings or may even be in debt.
They are not rich although they may appear to be, given their consumption habits. They are also far from being poor because many of them are white-collar workers who belong to the middle-income group.
Some observers tend to believe that the new phrase represents a transformation in Chinese people's consumption habits, since in the past people preferred saving to spending.
However, it may be an oversimplification to attribute the phenomenon to a change of consumption habits, since it is not universal. It defines the so-called sandwich layer of society who, daunted by high housing costs, seek a better life without buying an apartment.
The term indicates disapproval of an extravagant way of life, but many young people are using it to mock themselves.
These consumption habits may be a way for this group to ease personal anxiety although it may also be driven by vanity. The distinction between different social strata caused by income and consumption has been blurred for this group of people. The invisible impoverished population is going against the traditional concepts of consumption, as well as traditional social stratification.
(This is an edited excerpt of an article published in China Youth Daily on April 24)