China's Fresh Graduates Face Bleak Job Prospects

By Joshua Cawthorpe, March 18, 2021

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Young Chinese adults are struggling to find jobs, continuing a trend that existed before COVID-19. 

In February, the unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds sat at 13.1%, more than double the national rate in Chinese cities, according to CNBC.

Last year’s epidemic hit China’s job market hard with popular recruitment app, BOSS, reporting a 56% increase in applicants and a 22% decline in demand, year-on-year, as reported in June 2020 by CGTN.

However, despite the virus being mostly under control in China for the better part of 2020, the unemployment rate for recent graduates remains the same today as it was during the height of the outbreak.

READ MORE: Job Competition Rises in China Amid COVID-19

A subway advertising campain for BOSS recruitment with the slogan ‘promotion.’ Image via @爱好天文的小律师/Weibo

The number of urban jobs created in 2019 was 13.52 million, down from 13.61 million in 2018. A troubling statistic considering that the number of college graduates entering the workforce smashes records year after year, with 9.09 million expected in 2021.

Beijing has set its eyes on lowering the overall unemployment rate to 5% by creating 11 million jobs in the coming year, with overall GDP growth estimated at 6%. The first two months of 2021 saw 1.48 million urban jobs created, predominantly driven by the service sector, as reported by China Daily.

When the previous record of new graduates entering the workforce was expected to be surpassed in 2017, Premier Li Keqiang stressed the importance of hiring graduates for social stability. At the time, the government asked that local authorities encourage students to seek jobs in emerging industries or start their own businesses.

In his closing remarks after this year’s Two Sessions on March 11, Li insisted that the market would stabilize employment and that flexible employment, like e-commerce and delivery services, would play a key role, with many people “working several jobs.”

However, his comments did not address the unemployed elephant in the room. Many university graduates feel that their opportunities are inadequate and struggle to find jobs at all.

“I’m in the streets looking for a job with a bachelor’s degree, but bosses only want people with work experience. My friend who only has a high school degree did sales for a few years and now earns RMB8,000 monthly with a commission. What did I study for?” wrote one exasperated graduate on Weibo.

Another asked why is the government considering raising the retirement age when it’s so difficult for graduates to find work. The hashtag ‘graduation equals unemployment’ has been viewed almost three million times on Weibo.

Salaries and ‘996’ work culture (working from 9am-9pm, six days a week) also remain areas of concern for graduates. According to, 75% of employees in Shanghai make an average monthly salary of just over RMB6,000, including housing and transportation benefits.

READ MORE: Death of Tech Worker Renews Concerns Over '996' Work Culture

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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