Rising unemployment troubles Chinese youth

The rising unemployment rate in China amid the realty crisis-led economic slowdown and the Beijing government’s inability to create enough jobs have caused panic among the youth. The competition for limited government posts has become fierce. The young people are compelled to take up menial jobs or to resort to farming jobs.    

Against the backdrop of economic slowdown, state interventions and disruptions due to Covid pandemic, China has witnessed shut down of several private companies and the exit of many multinationals.[1][2][3][4] This has led the unemployment to rise, hitting the young graduates and professionals the most. Wang Jun, chief economist at Huatai Asset Management, said “Youth unemployment will stay with us for quite a long time, at least for five-to-10 years.”[5]

The intensity of unemployment in China can be gauged from the fact that record 3 million candidates appeared for the civil exams to fill 39,600 vacancies.[6] Social media is abuzz with the concerns being raised by the young Chinese people. “After all, the general environment is not good,” one user wrote on Weibo. “Companies are laying off employees and closing down in large numbers. It is not stable at all, so I have to choose to be a civil servant. The less earnings is fine. At least I won’t be unemployed and starve to death.”[7]

The employment opportunities do not appear in synchronisation with the growth of China’s population and its economic progress. There were 762.54 million employed people in 2012, which after a decade has decreased to 733.51 million.[8] Now, the slowdown in China’s economy has worsened the employment scenario, said economist George Magnus. “The labour market has been badly disrupted, particularly for young people,” he said.

The 30-year-old Gong Chengqiang is now working on a strawberry farm in a village as the tech company he was working for in Hangzhou shut down. The lack of urban jobs forced highly educated Gong to move to rural areas.  

“My dad’s family worked as farmers their entire lives. Their one wish is for their children to have a different life and wonder why they put me through school for so many years if I just go back to farming,” he said.[9]

The unemployment rate in China has been over 5 percent and it is expected to remain the same until 2028.[10] Interestingly, unemployment in rural areas is not accounted for in China’s official job data, which can make the job scenario look much worse otherwise. Scott Rozelle, the co-director of the Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions, said “Do you know how many rural people are unemployed? Zero: By definition, rural inhabitants are never unemployed, because in theory, every rural family in China owns a small plot of farmland.”[11]

Peng Peng, executive chairman of the think tank Guangdong Society of Reform, said “Young people in urban areas have encountered great difficulty in finding jobs due to the influence of the pandemic and the unprecedented number of graduates.”[12] Recent college graduates are posting their photos on social media being sprawled facedown on the ground in a graduation gown to express their anger and anxiety.[13]

Wang Jun said youth unemployment has become a major headache for the Chinese government so it is offering temporary jobs such as security guards,  receptionists as “a short-term fix for stability, to relieve social conflicts brought by joblessness.”[14] The 23-year-old engineering graduate Liu was left with no option but to work in cell phone sales. “A lot of times I would find myself thinking, what’s the point of going to college if I’m going to end up doing this?” she said.[15] 

Xi has instructed the college graduates and unemployed to endure hardship and work in the countryside. Beijing government claimed it is to engage the youth in activities to rejuvenate villages.[16] Jenny Chan, an associate professor of sociology at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, however, called it a political move to pre-empt any protests by agitated unemployed youth. “It is just postponing the youth unemployment crisis, however, because structurally you are not trying to improve the economic momentum. The government is just trying to buy time,” Chan said.[17]

Those who went to villages for work do not seem happy thanks to the low remuneration and lack of future growth. One such graduate named Li Qing from Yangzhou said she would not recommend rural work to those pursuing academic studies or those who want full-time jobs. “Such an experience will be of little help to their future work, and neither will it make a corporate employer look at you differently during hiring,” she said.[18]  

[1] https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/China-s-stagnating-rust-belt-hit-by-exits-of-global-companies

[2] https://apnews.com/article/china-foreign-companies-investment-trade-a47887e2c89050d291ebd169b0989cc4

[3] https://www.wsj.com/articles/xi-jinpings-subtle-strategy-to-control-chinas-biggest-companies-ad001a63

[4] https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/China-s-private-sector-takes-back-seat-in-post-COVID-recovery

[5] https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinese-graduates-hold-off-career-dreams-take-temporary-government-jobs-2023-11-14/

[6] https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202311/1302541.shtml

[7] https://www.reuters.com/world/china/record-numbers-sit-china-civil-service-exam-hoping-job-security-2023-11-27/

[8] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1102407/china-number-of-employed-persons-in-urban-rural-areas/

[9] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-12-03/china-youths-swap-city-dreams-for-country-living-as-jobs-crisis-mounts

[10] https://www.statista.com/statistics/270320/unemployment-rate-in-china/       

[11] https://www.lemonde.fr/en/economy/article/2023/10/29/china-s-rural-inhabitants-are-not-included-in-official-unemployment-statistics_6212860_19.html

[12] https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3222090/more-chinese-graduates-explore-rural-jobs-comparisons-mao-zedongs-campaign-fail-pass-muster

[13] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jun/15/glum-chinese-graduates-go-viral-with-pictures-of-misery-amid-jobs-anxiety

[14] https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinese-graduates-hold-off-career-dreams-take-temporary-government-jobs-2023-11-14/

[15] https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/china-youth-unemployment-xi-jobs-522028c5

[16] https://www.wsj.com/world/china/china-youth-unemployed-xi-mao-countryside-075bbd46

[17] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-12-03/china-youths-swap-city-dreams-for-country-living-as-jobs-crisis-mounts

[18] https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3222090/more-chinese-graduates-explore-rural-jobs-comparisons-mao-zedongs-campaign-fail-pass-muster

[18] https://www.wsj.com/world/china/china-youth-unemployed-xi-mao-countryside-075bbd46

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