Chinese youth face a dismal job market as COVID slows the economy

BEIJING — Liu Qian, who is looking for a job with a new master’s degree, said two recruiters interviewed her and later said the positions had been eliminated. Others asked her to pay less.

She is one of 11 million recent graduates desperate for jobs in a dismal job market as virus controls force factories, restaurants and other employers to close. door. Survivors are experiencing cuts in jobs and wages.

“Am I not worthy?” Liu asked. “From the moment I started looking for a job, I felt as if my future had been torn apart by a machine, and I didn’t know if I could put it back together.”

Liu, 26, said some employers balked when she asked for a monthly salary of 8,000 yuan ($1,200). According to Liepin, a job search platform, fresh graduates last year were paid the equivalent of 9,800 yuan ($1,500) a month.

According to the China Employment Research Institute and, another job hunting website, there were nearly two graduates competing for every job in the three months ended June, up from 1.4 quarters before.

China’s job drought echoes the struggles of young people around the world in depressed but politically sensitive economies in a year in which President Xi Jinping was supposedly trying to prolong his time in power.

Graduates often come from urban families, the biggest winners from China’s economic growth, an important source of political support. The ruling party needs them, especially those with technical training, to kick-start their careers to advance the industry.

Fortunately, a publisher hired Liu in late July, two months after she graduated.

The official June unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds was close to 20%, compared with 5.5% for all ages. This number is expected to grow once new graduates are taken into account.

Premier Li Keqiang, the top economic official and second in the ruling party, said in March the government hoped to create 13 million new jobs this year but did not say how many. company can be lost to the closed company. Li said it is expected that 16 million people are looking for work.

Li has promised “employment-supporting policies” including tax and fee cuts totaling 2.5 trillion yuan ($400 billion) to employers.

According to Liepin, a third of companies surveyed this March-April period said they plan to hire fewer new graduates. It said 27%, most of them state-owned, would hire more, and 18% had no plans to change course.

China’s unusually strict approach to COVID-19 has kept the number of cases low, but the costs have skyrocketed.

The economy shrank in the three months ending June from the previous quarter as factory activity and consumer spending plummeted. The ruling party has stopped talking about being able to meet this year’s official 5.5% growth target.

The repeated shutdowns that have kept factories and offices in Shanghai and other industrial centers closed for weeks have disrupted the labor market, said Zhang Chenggang of the Capital University of Economics and Business. traditional movement.

Companies are “cutting down on hiring needs” due to a “life-saving mindset,” Zhang said.

“In the future, we will have to face the challenges of technology,” he said. “Instability in the labor market may even increase. So for college students, the most important thing is adaptability.”

Uncertainties arise in many different industries. Internet companies are shedding jobs after the ruling party tightened controls by launching antitrust and data privacy probes. Real estate is plunging after regulators banned the use of debt.

Tao Yinxue, a 2021 graduate, left an internship in an educational institute before graduating, worried about the government’s crackdown on the industry that has wiped out tens of thousands of jobs.

In April, she quit her job at a financial company when she realized that the company was promoting virtual currency, which was “really not legal in our country”.

“Students tend to seek stability,” said Xing Zhenkai, a Liepin researcher.

Mr. Xing said that 2 out of 5 graduates surveyed want to work for state-owned enterprises that are considered safer and supported by the government.

Tao is preparing for the civil service exam in Anhui province, west of Shanghai, and is looking for another job. She submitted more than 120 resumes and contacted nearly 2,000 employers online.

With fewer posts and more job seekers, “companies can have more options,” says Tao. “They want people with experience rather than a green hand like me.”

Other graduates are quitting their jobs, choosing to stay on campus or take exams for government jobs that may pay less than the private sector but offer greater stability and social status, Zhang said.

Frustration over stiff competition for government-backed jobs exploded into a wave of online outcry when pop star Jackson Yee, also known as Yi Yangqianxi, appeared on the list. shortlisted candidates to perform at the National Theater of China.

The Chinese public on social media, including Yee’s fans, questioned whether he abused his celebrity privileges during the recruitment process to get a position as a bonus. for him but will give other candidates real leave or not.

Yee denied receiving special treatment but announced she would give up the position.

Anti-virus controls have shut down in-person job fairs and postponed civil service exams, resulting in hundreds of thousands of jobs each year.

Fang Zhiyou, an accounting graduate student in central Hubei province, said the postponement of the civil service exam from March to July disrupted her job search. She is waiting to find out how she did.

“If it weren’t for the pandemic, my exams wouldn’t have been delayed and I wouldn’t have struggled for so long,” Fang said. “I hate pandemics forever.”

Fang would rather work for the government but said she would accept an accounting job for a manufacturer.

The number of graduates has increased after an initiative started in 2019, before the pandemic, to increase training for technical skills that the government deems “urgently needed”. More job seekers are expected to enter the labor market in the coming years.

“If I don’t have a job this year, it will definitely get harder next year,” Fang said.


Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang in Beijing and researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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