More than half a million Chinese people were thrown out of work in the last three months of last year as the impact of the global financial crisis deepened, the government said yesterday.
As of Dec. 31 last year, 8.86 million urban residents were registered as jobless, up 560,000 from the end of the third quarter, ministry of human resources spokesman Yin Chengji (尹成基) told a press conference.
“It shows the impact of the international financial crisis on China’s employment situation,” he said.
Partly as a result of the fourth-quarter jobless spike, the unemployment rate in Chinese cities rose last year for the first time since 2003, according to data from the ministry.
The urban jobless rate stood at 4.2 percent at the end of last year, up from 4 percent from the end of 2007, Yin said.
The rise reflected an economy slowed down by the financial crisis, said Tang Min (湯敏), deputy secretary of the China Development Research Foundation, a think-tank linked to the State Council, or Cabinet.
The actual size of China’s jobless population may well be much bigger than the official figure because it does not include millions of migrant workers and university graduates, Tang said, according to Xinhua news agency.
“The figure looks all right, but the real situation could be much more serious,” he said.
Beijing has unveiled numerous measures to maintain and create jobs, including financial aid to companies and orders to state-run firms to ease on job cuts, after Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) warned of a “grim” jobs situation this year.
Despite the measures, the government has scaled down its ambitions, targeting the creation of nine million jobs this year, one million fewer than last year, Yin said.
Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) has warned the nation’s economy faces the toughest year since 2000, pledging a range of measures aimed at curbing the downturn, state media said yesterday.
“This year is the most difficult year for China’s economic development so far this century,” Wen told a meeting of the State Council held on Monday, the Xinhua news agency reported.
“We must turn around the downward trend of economic growth as soon as possible,” he said at the gathering, called to discuss a draft government work report to be made public when the legislature meets in March.
Wen urged officials at all levels to prioritize job creation and help disadvantaged groups to ensure social stability, highlighting concerns that the jobless situation could lead to growing unrest.
More steps should be taken in the first quarter to reverse the economic slowdown, Wen said, according to Xinhua.
Government agencies should speed up and flesh out the implementation of an economic stimulus package announced in November as well as measures to boost major industries announced recently, he said.
Beijing has issued tax cuts and a US$1.5 billion subsidy for auto makers, and it is planning measures for eight other major industries such as shipbuilding, petrochemicals and textiles.
Wen also called on exporters to seek out emerging markets and improve product quality to maintain growth, Xinhua said, after shipments fell for a second month last month by 2.8 percent, its biggest drop for a decade.