China: Youth unemployment hits record high as 11.6 million graduates face jobless market

Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports on youth unemployment hitting a record high in China

Youth unemployment has hit a record high in China - 20% of 16 to 24 years-olds are out of work.

It is a statistic that alarms the government because millions of restless and disgruntled young people could lead to social or political instability, which might threaten Communist Party rule.

Compounding the problem will be 11.6 million new graduates who will join the search this month - another record number.

The pandemic is partly to blame as graduates have emerged to find a shrunken job market with lower wages and longer hours. There is also a mismatch between what graduates want and have trained for - and what is on offer.

The country’s strict zero-Covid policy led to the closure of thousands of business and factories that might have been a source of employment.

The housing industry has collapsed with regulators cracking down on debt.

Other industries such as tech and internet companies have been shedding jobs after stricter controls were brought in on data-security and as a result of anti-monopoly probes.

Many of this summer’s graduates have spent much of the last three years in lockdown on their campus, unable to get any intern or work experience.

This is making it hard to sell themselves to employers in a fiercely competitive market.

The government has introduced subsidies for small and medium sized businesses to hire more graduates, while State-owned companies have been ordered to do the same.

President Xi Jinping has encouraged young people to return to the countryside. Credit: AP

President Xi Jinping has also told the nations young people to endure some hardship and in a statement with echoes of the cultural revolution he encouraged a return to the countryside.

This week 13 million secondary school students are taking part in the annual college entrance exams, a million more than last year and the highest since records began.

Such is the importance placed on getting into university that crowds of anxious parents gather outside test sites with good luck charms and wishes for their children.

One mother we met told us she is worried that even a university degree won’t be enough. She is already saving and expecting her son will have to get a master’s degree to help secure him a job.

The generation sitting their exams this week were born under the one child policy.

Anxious parents gather outside test sites waiting for their children. Credit: ITV News

They are children who have been brought up with the pressure to achieve more than their parents.

They grew up in a China with rising prosperity and prospects.

They are expected to go into higher education and become part of the country’s growing middle class. The guarantee of a good job and a bright future is the bedrock of the Communist party’s social contract with its people, and at the moment, for millions of young people those promises are being broken.

They have studied hard believing they will be the drivers of China’s future growth.

Now, suddenly their expectations are being matched with a different reality.

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