1 in 5 Chinese youth is unemployed, and millions more are about to graduate

Xu Xiang, 21, started looking for a job in February and has had no luck so far. Ms. Xu, who specializes in financial management at a college in Chengdu, China, said she has received five responses to about 100 applications. Graduation in a few weeks.

“I’m not sure I’ll find a job,” she said. She said the only thing that made her feel less anxious was knowing she wasn’t alone – most of her classmates were facing similar problems.

Ms. Xu is one of the nearly 12 million Chinese expected to enter the job pool next month at a difficult time. The government reported this week that 20.4 percent of people aged 16 to 24 looking for work were unemployed in April. This is the highest level since China began releasing the statistic in 2018.

High youth unemployment has been a grim stain on the Chinese economy for several years, exacerbated by tough pandemic health restrictions that have limited travel, decimated small businesses and damaged consumer confidence. The government, facing rare public discontent as young professionals in major cities across China protested “zero Covid” rules, abruptly announced in December that it would begin easing policies. But the youth unemployment rate remained high, even as the overall rate fell two months in a row.

The Chinese government has introduced a range of policies aimed at stimulating youth employment, including subsidies for small and medium-sized businesses that hire college graduates. SOEs have been directed to make more jobs available for those who are just starting out.

Overall, the Chinese economy is self-balancing more slowly and unevenly than many might have thought. Other reports out of Beijing this week showed an increase in retail sales and factory activity in April, but those figures caused unease among economists and investors, who expected better results because the data was being compared to April 2022, when millions of people were effectively locked down. Inside during lockdown in Shanghai. Emerging from a difficult year, Chinese tech giants are starting to show signs of recovery, but for the most part their financial performance has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

One problem, analysts said, is the mismatch between the jobs college graduates want and the jobs available.

In March, job listings in tourism, passenger and freight transportation grew the fastest, according to Chinese job search site Zhilian. Another sector with many jobs available is retail.

Industries such as construction, transportation and warehousing, which usually attract great attention from the number of migrant workers in China, have also rebounded, said Fu Lingwei, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, at a press conference this week.

Ni Riming, a researcher with the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, a research organization, said young people with higher education degrees are looking for jobs in technology, education and medicine.

“But these industries are exactly the ones that have been growing slowly in China in the past several years,” Ni said. “Many industries have not only not grown, but have also suffered devastating blows.”

China has cracked down on its vibrant education and technology industries of the past several years. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and businesses and investors have been left reeling. Tightening oversight raised concerns about more government interference in the private sector, which in turn led companies to reduce hiring.

While the industries that attract educated youth are shrinking, the number of college graduates is increasing.

According to China’s Ministry of Education, 11.6 million college students are expected to graduate in June, an increase of 820,000 from last year.

Another way the Covid pandemic is still haunting young job seekers is that many students have spent part of college on lockdown, living on campuses where their movement has been very restricted. They had fewer opportunities for internships or to gain the social experience recruiters were looking for.

While the Chinese economy is expected to strengthen in the coming months, the recovery will remain weak until consumers feel confident enough again to make expensive purchases – which in turn will prompt more companies to do more hiring.

Dong Yan, who works for an organization in Beijing that holds regular job fairs, said there are still fewer companies inquiring about booths than before the pandemic.

“It is said that the economy is recovering,” Ms. Dong said. “But I feel like it’s going downward, because now many people are out of work or have been laid off by their companies.”

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