Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Unemployment is up in China. Around four million, or nearly three per cent, of rural migrant workers returned home by last month, this according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Other observers suggest that numbers are even greater because official figures do not take into account unregistered workers. Concurrently more than a million Chinese college graduates are unable to find work in the cities and are leaving for the countryside to find a job.
Coastal businesses, especially in the Yangtze and Pearl River Delta areas, have started to feel the crisis bite. Thousands of small and medium-sized companies have cut their payrolls or simply closed; many others are expected not to reopen after Lunar New Year holidays.
Liu Guoquan, director of the Rural Human Resources Development Office in Zhaotong (Yunnan), expects 330,000, or 30 per cent, of Zhaotong's labourers working outside the city to come back from coastal areas.
That figure could rise to more than half a million by May if the impact of the global financial crisis continues to be felt.
Back home jobs are scarce however. More importantly, early return should slash collective annual income of those workers by 540 million yuan, or about 1,000 yuan (US$ 140) a year per rural migrant worker.
Because about 95 per cent of returning migrant workers never completed secondary school, most of them do not have any skills.
In Zhaotong the city government is trying to teach unemployed workers how to embroider, make bamboo furniture and blow glass so that they can find jobs near their villages. But these “new jobs will [only] earn them 50 yuan per day,” Mr Liu told the South China Morning Post.
In Qujing local authorities are fast-tracking new infrastructure projects in the countryside to create 20,000 more jobs for farmers, whilst in Kunming rural migrant workers are being sent to vocational schools for work skills training that includes annual education subsidies of up to 1,500 yuan per person.
The counter-exodus is also impacting local food supplies. “The hundreds of thousands of returned rural workers have increased grain consumption by the local population by 500,000 tonnes per day,” Liu said. This has forced local authorities to import more from other provinces.
The re-employment situation in provinces with larger migrant populations like Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Sichuan is even grimmer.
Similarly, an estimated 6.1 million new graduates will enter the job market in 2009, and CASS expects one in four to have a hard time finding one.
“The employment situation may be worse than the 1990s,” said Chen Guangqing of the National Association of Vocational Education.
Urban unemployment is already at 9.4 per cent, but in the country’s central and western regions, which have less-developed economies, the situation is even worse.
Forty years after Mao forced millions of young people to leave their families and schools to move to rural areas, many graduates are trying to find temporary work in the countryside in what appears to be a spontaneous process of migration.
The government is concerned that growing unemployment will feed social unrest. The People’s Daily, the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party, urged local authorities to deal with the problems before they appear in order to maintain social stability.
The party is afraid that unemployment will make social inequalities more visible. At present, the average income of 20 per cent of the richest families is 17 times higher than that of 20 per cent of the poorest ones.