Crisis of confidence among China’s young unemployed

Ranks of ‘full-time children’ grow as prospects dim for Chinese job-seekers amid the economic downturn 

It’s been more than a year since Andy Lin graduated from his master’s program in Hong Kong. But unlike many young people in China who are desperately trying to find a job, he has become what many call a “full-time child” since returning to the mainland.

Even though there is no shortage of vacant positions in the market, the 27-year-old from Anhui province thinks most jobs can’t match his level of education or meet his expectations.

“I don’t like jobs with fixed hours and I also refuse to work overtime. If I have to work, I’d rather have a part-time job that can satisfy my basic needs in life,  he told Voice of America.

Lin is not the only one who holds this view. 

On China’s lifestyle-sharing app Xiaohongshu, tens of thousands of young people who identify as “full-time sons” or “full-time daughters” share their experiences.

“Several of my friends have been jobless or have refused to find jobs since graduating from universities because they think they are not attractive enough,” Lin said.

Youth unemployment

He also added that many young people around him are disillusioned about what China’s job market is offering: 

It seems that we have missed the peak of the internet industry or the new media sector, and these industries are no longer offering full-time positions with good benefits.

According to Lin, “full-time children” usually have substantial family support, allowing them the luxury to decide what they want to do in life. 

“Compared to many young people in China, I have several options to consider amid this wave of youth unemployment,” he said.

While some of his friends are stuck with labor-intensive jobs, Lin is applying to doctoral programs abroad. 

“I’m very dissatisfied with the current job market in China, so I want to get a Ph.D. degree overseas and work in academia in the future,” he told VOA.

Hanging on … young people face a challenging labor market in China. Image: File

The youth unemployment rate in the world’s second-largest economy has hit record highs since April. It reached an unprecedented 21.3% in June when authorities decided to halt the release of age-related employment data.

Yet some young people in China are trying to find opportunities in sectors of the rapidly growing platform economy, such as food delivery and live streaming. Analysts stressed that family wealth is a key factor affecting the choices they make while looking for full-time jobs.

“For people from a better background, their family can largely cushion the impact of the labor market issues, but the situation is not that good for people without family support,” Ya-Wen Lei, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, told VOA in a video interview.

In an op-ed published last month in Caixin, Peking University professor Zhang Dandan predicted that if the estimated 16 million young people relying on their parents or “lying flat” at home were included, China’s real youth unemployment rate could be as high as 46.5%.

Unlike “full-time children” who can rely on family support during this difficult time, those from rural areas often have to find ways to make ends meet. 

Cindy Yang, 26, a former journalist from China’s Hunan province, was laid off by her company last year, just a few weeks before the Chinese government ended its three-year-long zero-Covid strategy.

Unsuccessful applications

“For the first three months, I spent a lot of time looking up jobs on recruitment websites and sent out countless resumes to different companies, but I didn’t get any response,” she told VOA in a phone interview, adding:

When it’s time to pay rent every month, I would be extremely anxious about whether I still have enough savings or not.

After months of unsuccessful applications, Yang took her friend’s advice and signed up to be a delivery person for the popular shopping platform Meituan.

The experience, however, was a shock.

“Delivery is unstable and unpredictable. If you miss an order, it will mess up the rest of the orders on your schedule. Sometimes one customer’s sudden cancellation would disrupt the rest of your shift,” Yang said.

After a one-month trial, she realized that she was not ready to go from a white-collar job that paid around US$2,000 a month to one that didn’t have a guaranteed income or any basic protection.

Unemployment among the young in China could be as high as 46%. Photo: File / Social Media

“I had to work in delivery, write several articles and pick up other part-time jobs to make close to the same amount as my previous salary,” she said. 

“My trial period in the delivery industry made me realize how unprepared I was for the high intensity that came with the job,” Yang added.

After contemplating the long-term prospect of living in Shanghai without a stable full-time job, she has returned to her hometown and is now trying to figure out her next step.

In China’s challenging employment environment, Harvard’s Lei worries that young people may develop serious depression or other mental health issues.

“[They] may have to postpone important life plans such as marriage and childbearing, or put their dreams on hold,” she told VOA, adding:

If they can’t find meaning in life one day, that’s really a tragedy.

Other experts worry that if young people in China remain in “flexible work” like delivery and live streaming or remain unemployed at home for too long, that may have a long-term impact on China’s productivity. 

Chinese policymakers

“Many young people may exit the formal labor market,” Alicia Garcia-Herrero, the chief Asia-Pacific economist at investment bank Natixis, told VOA in a phone interview.

She added that rather than addressing the issue of youth unemployment, China seems to be “hiding the problem.” 

In her view, Beijing’s reaction to the challenge reflects a lack of response from Chinese policymakers. “It’s an ostrich behavior,” she said.

William Yang is a correspondent for Voice of America based in Taiwan.

This article is republished courtesy of Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.