Taipei: When she first moved to the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen after graduating from college, Marguerite Wang imagined she would spend her career working hard in a big city. Instead, she’s living with her parents in her hometown in north-eastern China.
A record of more than one in five young Chinese are out of work, their career ambitions at least temporarily derailed by a depressed job market as the economy struggles to regain momentum after its long bout with COVID-19.
Wang, who was laid off from a gaming company in December, is among an estimated 16 million young Chinese who, daunted by the difficulties of finding decent jobs, have moved back home. She asked that her English nickname be used out of concern that speaking to foreign media might hurt her job prospects.
After spending six months unsuccessfully applying for jobs in Shenzhen, the 29-year-old did something she had never imagined doing: she asked to move back home. Now she spends her days watching soap operas and studying Japanese to apply for a master’s programme in Japan.
Adult children returning to the nest is by no means unique to China, and many Chinese do live in extended families. But by some measures, young Chinese are enduring the country’s worst job market in generations, and many are coping by taking refuge with their parents.
The urban unemployment rate for the 16-to-24 age group reached a record 21.3 per cent in June. In July, the government stopped publishing age-specific data, prompting speculation the politically sensitive numbers had shot up even higher.
If “full-time adult children” were counted as unemployed, the jobless rate would be more than double the official rate of almost 20 per cent in March, Zhang Dandan, a Peking University economics professor, said in an op-ed in the Chinese business magazine Caixin in July.
That would be a more accurate assessment of the unemployment crisis, said Zhang, who declined an interview request from AP. Her article was later removed from one of Peking University’s WeChat accounts, where it had been shared.
The job drought is a ticklish problem for the ruling Communist Party, which is overseeing a sluggish post-pandemic economic recovery worsened by a downturn in the property market.
The economy grew at a 6.3 per cent pace in April-June compared to the same period a year earlier, when parts of China were under draconian COVID-19 lock downs. Exports have been sinking as other major economies slow.
China’s overall urban unemployment rate is officially 5.3 per cent, but young people have been disproportionately affected. Over the past two years, Beijing has cracked down on industries such as high tech and education that usually hire young college graduates. That led to mass layoffs and shutdowns in both sectors.
Other fields such as agriculture and construction lack enough workers, but most college graduates want less physically demanding white-collar positions. Research by online recruitment firm Zhilian Zhaopin showed a quarter of this year’s graduates wanted to work in the tech field.
“There are job opportunities, but the job opportunities are low quality,” said Xiang Biao, head of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany. “So, for the only child of a family, who received education, who grew up in a so-called time of abundance, it’s very difficult to embrace that kind of job.”