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Being a Starbucks barista just got cushier -- in China

Starbucks (SBUX) baristas struggling to pay the rent in high-cost cities like San Francisco and New York may want to consider a move to China. Starting this month, full-time baristas and shift supervisors at company-owned stores across the world's most populous nation will get a monthly subsidy to help cover housing.

The benefit should cover about 50 percent of lodging costs for employees working at least six months of the coffee chain, Starbucks said Tuesday in a statement.

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China represents the most important and exciting opportunity ahead of us," Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO, said in the release. "Over time, it's conceivable that China could become our largest market."

Starbucks operates 2,000 stores in China, making it the coffee chain's second-largest market. It plans to open another 500 stores in China this year and increase its store count to 3,400 by 2019.

The company in October reported same-store sales growth of 8 percent in its fiscal fourth quarter, but only 6 percent in its China and Asia Pacific business.

Starbucks has continued to expand in China even as the country's economy has slowed, a factor in lower energy prices and prompting concern about the global economy.

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