Biology student Ma Jingjing wandered the hall of a job fair in central China among other young Chinese hoping to find work in an economy crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ma, 26, was one of almost 9 million people graduating and entering the job market this year at a time of great uncertainty, an issue that has the Chinese Communist Party worried to the point that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has made it a priority.
The world’s second-largest economy might have rebounded sharply from a historic virus-induced contraction, but its young graduate jobless rate in June was more than three times that for urban unemployment.
Ma was among hundreds of young faces streaming in and out of the job fair on a recent weekend in Zhengzhou, where employers in industries ranging from real estate to manufacturing were recruiting.
Like many others, the aspiring teacher is “at a loss” and wondering if she should settle for any job or hold off work for further education.
“I have applied to seven or eight private schools, but only one has called me back for an interview,” she told reporters at the fair.
“I’ve studied for so many years and don’t want my family to pay for further training,” she said. “I’m especially worried about my finances.”
Aware of the risk that mass unemployment can spark political unrest — jeopardizing the party’s pledge of prosperity in return for unquestioned political power — the government has been making efforts to boost graduate employment via state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
However, poorer opportunities this year are pushing some into further studies, less ideal jobs or other options.
Although China’s economy appeared to make a strong comeback in the second quarter — growing 3.2 percent year-on-year — analysts have warned that the rebound might be overestimated, with a gap re-emerging between national figures and higher-frequency data.
Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics told reporters that there is no doubt China is recovering, but the magnitude would determine if growth is “strong enough to re-absorb some of the labor market problems” that emerged earlier this year, such as layoffs.
A gap in growth of a few percentage points could lead to a difference of millions of jobs created, he added.
Although China’s urban unemployment rate slipped to 5.7 percent in June, 19.3 percent of new graduates remained unemployed, UOB economists said in a report, adding that the labor market “continued to face challenges.”
Top-level economic data have not necessarily meant better hiring on the ground.
A 27-year-old surnamed Kang, who graduated in 2017, is back in the market after his contract in the communications industry in Beijing ended.
He decided to return to Zhengzhou, but has only received about five callbacks after sending more than 30 resumes to firms — and is still looking for a job.
“The virus outbreak has limited travel and a lot of job fairs have been postponed or canceled,” he said. “I’m extremely anxious.”
Lu Yifan, 25, said that the pandemic had caused many overseas Chinese students like him to return home sooner than planned — adding to the flood of jobseekers.
Guangdong graduate Zhao Jingying, 22, told reporters: “For us [this year], getting a single job offer is a feat.”
Beijing-based Huo Ruixi, 23, left university last month, but is planning a second round of further education after an unsuccessful five-month job search.
Officials are ramping up efforts to boost graduate employment, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) announced that more than 9 million new roles would be created this year.
A Chinese State Council guideline in March said that smaller firms that recruit graduates with contracts longer than a year would be given a subsidy, while SOEs would “continuously expand” the scale of graduate-hiring this year and next.
Henan authorities, for one, said that at least half the recruitment positions at SOEs within the province should be reserved for this year’s graduates, while Nanjing in Jiangsu Province set aside 1 billion yuan (US$143 million) to provide 100,000 internships for struggling graduates, the Xinhua news agency reported.
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