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China’s Youth Unemployment Crisis: 1 in 5 Are Out of Work


Shu Xiang, 21, started looking for a job in February and still has had no luck. A financial management major at a college in Chengdu, China, Ms. Shu said she has received five responses to about 100 applications. Graduation is in a few weeks.

“I’m not so confident about finding a job,” she said. The only thing that makes her feel less anxious, she said, is knowing she’s not alone — most of her classmates were facing similar problems.

Ms. Shu is one of 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 ages 16 to 24 looking for a job were out of work in April. That is the highest level since China started announcing the statistic in 2018.

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

The Chinese government has introduced a set of policies meant to stimulate youth employment, including subsidies for small and midsize businesses that hire college graduates. State-owned enterprises have been directed to make more jobs available for those just starting out.

Overall, the Chinese economy is steadying itself more slowly and unevenly than many believed it would. Other reports released by Beijing this week showed an increase in retail sales and factory activity in April, but those numbers 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 shut inside during a lockdown in Shanghai. China’s big tech companies, coming off a difficult year, are starting to show signs of a rebound, but for the most part their financial performances have not returned to prepandemic levels.

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

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

Industries like construction, transportation and warehousing, which typically draw heavy interest from China’s vast population of migrant workers, have also picked up, Fu Linghui, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a news conference this week.

Nie Riming, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, a research organization, said that young people with degrees in higher education were seeking jobs in technology, education and medicine.

“But these industries are exactly the ones that have been growing slow in China in the past several years,” Mr. Nie said. “Many industries not only did not grow, but also suffered from devastating blows.”

China has cracked down on its once-vibrant education and technology industries in the past several years. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. and companies and investors have been left reeling. The tightened supervision has prompted concerns about further government intervention in the private sector, which in turn has led companies to reduce hiring.

While the industries that attract educated young people are shrinking, the number of college graduates has been increasing.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, 11.6 million college students are expected to graduate in June, an increase of 820,000 over last year.

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

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While China’s economy is expected to strengthen in the coming months, the recovery will remain tenuous until consumers are feeling confident enough again to make big-ticket purchases — which will, in turn, will prompt more companies to do more hiring.

Dong Yan, who works for a Beijing organization that holds regular job fairs, said that the number of companies inquiring about booths is still lower than before the pandemic.

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


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