Shanghai native Xue Deqing is not a rich man, yet he does not consider himself poor. The laid-off worker is among a vast number of Shanghai residents skating just above the poverty line, workers who have been left behind in the city's 15-year economic boom. Laid off by a state-owned chemical company two years ago, Mr Xue was forced to survive on a severance payment equivalent to 550 yuan a month. Shanghai defines the poverty line at 320 yuan a month. When the 56-year-old recently qualified for retirement benefits, his monthly income rose to more than 1,000 yuan, but not having a job has been the scariest time of his life. 'If I don't have an accident, get sick or have to buy a house, then everything will be fine. All the common people live like this,' he said. The end was in sight for Mr Xue's plant in 2000. The Shanghai government shut the plant and sacked 2,000 workers as part of plans to move production from a residential area into an industrial park outside the city. The site was sold at cut-rate prices to developers who put up luxury housing, now selling for 24,000 yuan per square metre. For the former plant workers, seeing the buildings causes a feeling of helplessness. 'We can't live there, we can only look,' Mr Xue says. The divorced Mr Xue lives in rundown housing in Shanghai's inner city, sharing a 30 square metre room with his son. The kitchen is communal, split between several families. He is lucky in some ways: the size is above average for Shanghai and the area's historic status means the houses are safe from demolition - at least for now. One of the biggest complaints of Shanghai residents has been the rising cost of housing in recent years. Compensation for being evicted is usually below market value and low-cost housing is located far outside the city. Still, Mr Xue worries about his son getting married, since one of the social conventions in a Shanghai marriage is that the husband provides housing. He estimates 50,000 yuan would be enough to renovate his home, but he doesn't have the money to spare. 'It's impossible to buy housing. This is the biggest problem.' Housing is not the only thing becoming more expensive. Mr Xue has noticed that food prices are also rising. 'Prices have gone up, especially for meat, but we can still bear it,' he says. Yet Shanghai's double-digit annual economic growth of the past 15 years has benefited some people. Parked next to Mr Xue's ground-floor room is a new silver Buick Regal car, which sells for more than 175,000 yuan. 'The alley has become a parking lot,' he grumbles. He rides a bicycle or takes the bus. His situation is better than the estimated 3 million migrant workers who have flocked to Shanghai to find work. Mr Xue had a family to provide food and even clothes for his son when he was made jobless. In common Shanghai fashion, Mr Xue is prejudiced against migrant workers, whom he blames for rising crime. Still, he admits pride has prevented him from taking a low-level job that a migrant worker might accept. In the meantime, he spends his days playing the stock market hoping he may parlay his retirement benefits into something bigger. He accepts his lot and doesn't believe government sloganeering will reduce the wealth gap. 'The government talks about fairness, justice and openness but the system is like this,' he says.