Shanghai Is Back, but China’s Young Workers Are Still Stuck

Shanghai is reopening, to the relief of millions of residents. The hashtag “Shanghai is back” is lighting up Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging service.

But the cheery scene from Shanghai and modestly better economic news — the factory purchasing manager’s index for May rose — suggest a seriously troubled labor market. The unemployment rate for the 16- to 24-year-old age group was 18.2% in April according to China’s statistics bureau, higher than the previous record high of 16.8% in July and August 2020. As a result, youth unemployment often peaks within months. After graduation, that number is likely to be even higher this summer. According to a survey from the online recruitment website Zhaopin, less than half of new university graduates received a job offer last month, compared with 63% in spring 2021 and about 75% in 2019. 2018.

Such numbers track with official data showing a higher youth unemployment rate over the past four years — and that is a real worry for China.

The pandemic and Beijing’s harsh policies that are “not lively” have certainly wreaked havoc on China’s service industry, which attracts most university graduates. But more structural factors are also pushing up youth unemployment. Most obviously, China’s number of new junior high school graduates continues to grow every year, reaching a record 10.8 million in 2022. That number could reach close to 12 million by 2024, the report said. HSBC analysts estimated last year.

If all of those recent graduates are intent on pursuing opportunities in high-paying, high-productivity fields like information technology — and job opportunities are growing at a reasonable rate — a growing cohort of well-educated young people would be a more logical positive for China. But in reality the opposite seems to be happening: Chinese graduates are becoming more risk averse and more inclined to seek employment in the public sector. In 2019, Zhaopin found that about 40% of graduates preferred a job working for the government or state-owned companies, while 21% preferred the private sector. By 2022, those interested in working in the private sector have fallen to just 17% of graduates, while 54% prefer the public sector.

To be sure, some of this pessimism reflects an overall slowdown in private-sector employment and services related to China’s Covid-19 control policies. But last year’s ruthless crackdown on China’s education and consumer technology sectors was also clearly a factor. Top tech companies include Alibaba,

Tencent and Didi are both planning thousands of layoffs this year – Tencent alone is poised to cut about 20% of its 20,000-strong cloud and smart industry business. . Technology and education, along with finance, are also top choices for graduates of top Chinese university Tsinghua in 2020, according to HSBC.

With competition increasing for a shrinking pool of top jobs, it’s no surprise that China’s young workers are in a sour mood. Internet buzzwords like “stay still” and some even darker sayings that rose in price after the Shanghai lockdown reflect real hardships and not just youth skepticism. As was the case with American graduates who struggled after the financial crisis to advance their careers, buy a home, and start a family, the economic — and potentially political — impacts have long-term body.

Shanghai residents take selfies outside and sip champagne as the city emerges from a more than two-month-long Covid-19 shutdown. But there are economic challenges ahead as China shows no sign of easing its zero-covid strategy. Photo: Qilai Shen / Bloomberg News

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