China’s latest graduates face economic slowdown and unemployment

In late May, on the 53rd day of a devastating lockdown to contain the COVID-19 virus, Shanghai officials allowed some residents, including chef Li Hongji, to leave their homes for a few hours.

Li and his friends brought beer and wine from home and drank them on the steps of a closed coffee shop across from Wukang Mansion, a tourist hotspot in Shanghai’s former French concession. I was.

Restrictions were beginning to ease, but not fast enough to save Lee’s job. The Italian restaurant where he worked closed.

“We were only paid minimum wage in April. I’m sure the restaurant survived the lockdown, but our foreign boss has lost confidence in Shanghai’s future.” Lee said, adding that he had not received any severance pay.

China is increasingly sacrificing economic growth to maintain zero tolerance to COVID policies. The precautionary measures and snap lockdowns, particularly in Shanghai and Jilin provinces, lasted at least two months, cutting the country’s second-quarter gross domestic product growth to just 0.4% on an annualized basis.

While the official urban unemployment rate was 5.4% in July, the unemployment rate among 16-24 year olds was 19.9%, the highest since the government began releasing statistics in 2018. .

Chef Li Hongji laughed over drinks with friends as authorities eased slightly the particularly severe lockdown imposed in Shanghai in May 2022. He was laid off by his employer about two weeks ago.  (Jennifer Pack/Marketplace)
Chef Li Hongzhi had drinks and laughs with friends in Shanghai in May, when authorities eased a particularly stringent lockdown slightly. He had been laid off by his employer about two weeks earlier. (Jennifer Pack/Marketplace)

The second restaurant Lee worked at was closed due to pandemic precautions.

“For a chef or anyone in the hospitality industry, there are no plans for the future. “I can’t even find a job until restaurants reopen.”

Restaurants in Shanghai mostly closed in late March and didn’t fully reopen for in-store dining until the end of June.

Further south, in the tech hub of Shenzhen, a software coder named Nathan is trying to keep his job. His company hasn’t officially announced the layoffs yet, so he didn’t give his last name. June was his department’s turn.

“The HR staff called an emergency meeting and started speaking in vague terms they didn’t understand,” says Nathan. “10 minutes after this, they had us sign a notice that we had to reapply for the job.”

He says 22 team members had to compete for four jobs. Those who didn’t succeed basically had to leave.

Luckily, Nathan is still with the company, but it’s unclear how long. He was able to find another job, but the tech department is laying off workers. Additionally, Nathan thinks he’s 30 and too old for the tech industry.

“At my current salary, a company could hire two college graduates or someone from a top university who has worked at a big tech company,” says Nathan.

A record 10.8 million graduates have found employment in China this year. This is equivalent to the entire population of Georgia.

“Most companies didn’t respond,” said Han Jun, a computer science graduate.

“What the company advertises and what they actually want are two different things,” he added.

When a company offered Han an internship in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, he accepted the offer.

“The company said they would train me, but that meant I would learn something online on my own. I left after a month. It was a waste of time.” .

Han suspects he was being used because the Wuhan government provides subsidies to companies for each new graduate hire. His internship was unpaid, but he said the company told him to lie if asked.

“There were people who came to inspect the company and they asked me if I had a salary and if the company had social security insurance. should have acknowledged,” Han said. “I think the company got a government subsidy.”

Han could complain, but to whom? Rieshev also considered going to the Labor Department to receive the severance pay he owed, but ultimately did not.

“Labor arbitration would take a long time…so I let it go,” Lee said. “The boss is also having a hard time.”

Gan Yulin, one of a record 10.8 million graduates in China this year, hopes to delay his job search.  (courtesy Gan Yulin)
Gan Yulin, one of a record 10.8 million graduates in China this year, is trying to delay his job search. (courtesy gun)

Faced with questionable employer practices, most workers told Marketplace they would rather focus on getting new jobs. I’m here.

“Regression” means that everyone works overtime, and when the job is done, the boss sees and can’t leave. If I leave early today, I worry that I will be given more tasks tomorrow,” says Nathan, his coder.

It’s no surprise that Chinese-language graduate Gan Yulin is trying to delay his job search, or at least avoid uncertainty in the private sector.

“I’m scared of becoming a working adult. I want to stay at home and continue my studies so that I can take the graduate school qualification and the civil service exam.”

Gunn is also considering enlisting.

A paddy field in Kan Yulin's hometown in central China's Henan province. While there is less competition for jobs in rural areas like Gan's hometown, there are fewer jobs. (Courtesy Gan Yurin)
A rice field in Henan Province, the hometown of Gan Yulin. Thus, while there is less competition for jobs in rural areas, there are fewer jobs. (courtesy gun)

Most of the people Marketplace interviewed for this article have found work.

Chef Lee’s previous employers managed to reopen the restaurant, but by then Lee had found a new cooking job at a facility for new mothers. But she said Lee doesn’t enjoy her job.

After his internship, graduate Han spent 10,000 yuan (about $1,500) on web development courses to improve his skills. He currently earns 36,000 yuan ($5,300) a year as a web developer in his hometown in central Hubei, which is far below his expectations.

Alexander Liu, who lives in northern China’s Hebei province, had a lot of savings and could afford to wait until he found a suitable job.

“For someone like me who has been out of college for five years or more, it’s not difficult to be unemployed for months or even years,” Liu said.

It took him four months to get the job creating content for the company’s UK market TikTok account. Ryu celebrated his new job with a date.

“For the past 28 years, I’ve turned down my parents’ requests to date girls, but when I got this offer, I was a little happier,” Liu said.

Liu agreed to go on two matchmaking dates set up by her parents. He got the job, but the date didn’t go well.

Additional research by Charles Zhang.

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