In Taiwan’s political climate, finding fault with whatever politicians say or do appears to be a daily ritual to many people. Council of Labor Affairs Minister Jennifer Wang’s (王如玄) comments on a government-funded recruitment program for college graduates sparked criticism and added color to our lives last week.
In an interview published in the latest edition of the Chinese-language CommonWealth Magazine on Wednesday, Wang said that some college graduates “would not even get a dime” if the government didn’t provide a NT$22,000 monthly subsidy for businesses to hire them last year.
Wang was referring to a one-year program the government introduced in April last year to help college and vocational school graduates find jobs at a time when the nation’s economy was hit by recession and businesses were either asking their full-time salaried workers to take temporary unpaid leave or simply stopped hiring.
Wang’s remark could infuriate some people, but she was absolutely correct that at a time when few job openings were available, this program did work to help some first-time job seekers, just like other government-initiated employment programs that provided short-term public sector jobs for the unemployed last year.
What one should feel angry about, however, is that Wang had tried to ignore the drawbacks of this government-funded program, which critics said had caused new graduates to face lower starting salaries than before. That is because many businesses have since tended to offer first-time job seekers an entry-level pay as low as NT$22,000 a month based on the government-set standard.
Government statistics showed that this amounts to just half of the nation’s average monthly wage of NT$42,509, and it would take nearly 23 years for first-time job seekers to reach the average wage if their employers agreed to an annual 3 percent salary increase, as Formosa Plastics Group does.
Therefore, rather than pretending they had no knowledge of this unintended side effect, Wang and her Cabinet colleagues should come up with a solution to avoid making the same mistake, as the government is now considering extending the program for six months starting from June.
Meanwhile, Wang’s comments on the program reminded all of us about the increasingly serious problem of youth unemployment in Taiwan.
The latest government statistics showed the unemployment rate for people between ages 15 and 24 was 13.25 percent in February, which was twice as high as the whole population’s unemployment rate of 5.76 percent for the month.
In the past, Taiwan’s youth unemployment mainly affected a small group of people coming from poor families with a low education background. That is not the case now. College graduates are now facing the same high unemployment rate as high school graduates, with some even joining their middle-aged and elderly counterparts in an army of long-term unemployed people.
As the prospects of new jobs remain dim, some college graduates will still face uncertainties once their contracts expire even though they were fortunate enough to secure temporary jobs or internships through the government program.
Youth unemployment also shows that it’s a waste of time for students and society to strive for a better education in this country, since even that doesn’t appear to be enough for the youth to survive in a more difficult job market these days.
Worse, coupled with low entry-level salaries and stagnation of wage growth, youth unemployment will also widen the gap between rich and poor, as there really isn’t much money that young people could save with that level of salary. This isn’t just a problem for the government, but one for the whole nation as well.
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