Coronavirus: 13.8 per cent of young Chinese are unemployed

In April, the overall unemployment rate stood at 6 per cent. For the China Labour Bulletin, whilst dissatisfaction is growing, fear of contagion is hampering labour action. The service sector is unable to absorb surplus labour from manufacturing.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Youth unemployment in China reached 13.8 per cent in April, up by 0.5 per cent over the previous month, China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported today.

For the 8.7 million graduates, finding a job matching their expectations won’t be easy. Up to a third is likely to remain unemployed.

The unemployment rate for those aged between 16 and 24 is more than double the official national average, which is 6 per cent, up from 5.9 per cent in March. The ranks of the unemployed hit 6.2 per cent in February as a result of the pandemic.

The actual unemployment rate is certainly higher. Chinese authorities only take into account the workforce resident in urban areas (around 430 million people). This leaves out 300 million migrant workers, mainly from rural areas. For most observers, the latter have been the hardest hit by the country's economic downturn.

In January and February, the Chinese economy created 3.54 million new jobs, one million less than in the same period last year, mostly part-time or day jobs, which offer few prospects for the future and no social safety net.

According to a study by the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB), using press information and monitoring Chinese social media, dissatisfaction is growing in the mainland over the employment situation. However, this has not yet turned into intense labour militancy.

CLB recorded only 142 strikes in the first four months of 2020, down sharply from 483 last year. The fear of contagion seems to have dampened workers' will to protest.

Services and transportation are the sectors that have seen the most strikes. Manufacturing has had fewer problems since the start of the pandemic crisis.

Few manufacturing workers have been laid off. Instead, employers have placed staff on unpaid leave or only paid their basic wage because there is no overtime available.

Before the pandemic, services were the most dynamic sector of the economy, absorbing many of the workers laid off in manufacturing. This shift from one sector to another is impossible under current conditions.

According to the NBS, the Index of Services Production dropped in April by 4.5 per cent year on year. In the first four months, the same Index declined by 9.9 per cent year on year.