However the protest plays out, such concerns are unlikely to go away soon. New university graduates here typically earn less than $18,000 a year in a city where a 177-square-foot studio sells for $250,000. And of greater concern to Beijing, the same pressures exist on the mainland, where housing prices are exorbitant and the annual number of college graduates has quintupled since 2000.
Economic issues also play into the government's rejection of the protesters' demand for open elections.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Leung said that one reason fully open elections could not be allowed here was because they would result in "a numbers game" that would force the government to skew "politics and policies" toward poor people. A panel of 1,200 local leaders, many of them wealthy, currently selects Hong Kong's chief executive, who is then appointed by Beijing.
Mr. Leung's comments followed those by a Chinese academic who advises the central government on Hong Kong issues, who said in August that democracy in Hong Kong had to be limited in order to protect the interests of its capitalists. In a memorable, and at the time surprising, comment at a speech here arranged by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, he said universal suffrage would hurt the business community because "their slice of pie will be shared by others."
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Beijing's quiet alliance with the business elite has not sat well with the protesters. On Wednesday afternoon, close to 100 people protested outside the front gate of Mr. Leung's official residence, accusing him of colluding with tycoons on policies that discriminated against the poor.
But if the past is any guide, the protesters need at least some of the elite on their side if they are to make any headway.
The last big surge in pro-democracy street protests here was in 2003, when a previous administration sought to pass stringent internal security legislation.Tycoons torpedoed that legislation, despite heavy pressure from Beijing to support it, at least in part because some feared that continued protests might result in property damage to downtown buildings.
But unlike 2003, the business elite is exerting no pressure on the government this year to strike a compromise with the demonstrators, according to a person deeply involved in the Hong Kong government's decision-making.