An article by a Chinese professor claiming that China’s youth unemployment rate for March could actually be as high as nearly 50% was removed just a few days after it was published, reviving the debate about the way the country reports its official statistics and further emphasizing China’s weakening labor market.
In the article, Peking University professor Zhang Dandan said that if the data would count the 16 million non-students “lying flat” at home or financially relying on their parents, the rate of youth unemployment could actually be as high as 46.5%, more than twice the reported number of 19.7% for that month.
Of the 96 million city dwellers aged between 16 to 24 years old, 33 million are looking for jobs, and 48 million are enrolled in school. Zhang’s estimates take into consideration the 16 million so-called NEET (not in education, employment, or training).
The numbers continued to increase in the months that followed. The official youth jobless rate for June is a record-breaking 21.3% as the economy slowed in the second quarter of the year, showing that the world’s second-largest economy has yet to really emerge from its protracted experience of the pandemic, due to President Xi Jin Ping’s hyper-stringent Covid Zero policy.
Zhang’s article, while criticized on Weibo, the Chinese counterpart to Twitter, is echoed by other economists. A June 19 column from Wang Hsin-Hsien, a distinguished professor at the Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies at National Chengchi University, outlines three factors that experts say suggest that the youth unemployment rate is higher than reported.
First, he points out that China’s benchmark for the number of required work hours per week to be considered employed is much lower than international standards. Per the International Labour Organization, a person who works 10 hours a week is considered employed. Standards in the US and France require more hours at 15 and 20 per week, respectively. But in China, a person who works just one hour a week is already counted as employed.
Second, Wang notes that numbers reported by the Chinese government are based on surveys of the population in cities, leaving out rural migrant workers who have lost their jobs and returned to their rural communities.
Lastly, the government also leaves out the around 200 million people who are “flexibly employed” including the almost 2 million working in the livestreaming sector. Many of these workers consider themselves generally unemployed and working odd jobs for subsistence.
China’s efforts to downplay the figures may be for naught, especially as experts also say that this problem will persist for a while. What’s concerning is what the authoritarian government will do about the resulting unrest from all this “laying flat” and idleness.
Information for this story was found via Bloomberg, Economic Times, Hankyoreh, and the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.