China urged to ‘expand job market’, provide support for university graduates and migrant workers in 2021

Frank Tang
·4-min read

China must set its sights on expanding the job market next year, especially for university graduates and migrant workers, experts at a labour ministry conference have said, as the country’s top leaders gather in Beijing to set future economic policies.

Hundreds of officials are in the capital for the annual Central Economic Work Conference this week, where job growth will be high on the agenda for 2021, the same year the Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary and the start of the next five-year plan.

With China’s economic rebound from the coronavirus pandemic set to continue next year, employment will be a key concern for the government, along with improving basic living standards, reducing financial vulnerability and ensuring grain and energy security.

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“It is very important to ensure a stable job market in such a special year like 2021,” according to the conclusions of a national employment conference organised by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

“We must set our sights on a fuller and higher-quality employment target … using every means to stabilise and expand job markets,” the ministry said on its website on Wednesday.

College graduates, rural migrant workers and poor urban families were identified as groups that should receive government support next year.

The government should also turn the temporary support used to offset the shock of the coronavirus into long-term policies over the next five years, it added.

Wen Bin, chief analyst with the China Minsheng Banking Corp, said the work conference is likely to focus on stabilising the economy because recovery in some sectors remains weak.

For the sake of employment, there is no need to rush to exit existing support measures, particularly those for small businesses

Wen Bin

“We are generally optimistic about the overall economic recovery next year. However, for the sake of employment, there is no need to rush to exit existing support measures, particularly those for small businesses,” he said.

Beijing has always prioritised support for the domestic job market, given the potential for unemployment to affect social stability. Official data showed that employment has improved this year as the economy recovered.

The surveyed unemployment rate declined to 5.2 per cent in November from 5.3 per cent October and is now a full percentage point below the peak of 6.2 per cent in February, when businesses were most severely disrupted by the pandemic.

The rate is even lower than the government’s target of 6 per cent for this year. About 11 million new urban jobs were created in the first 11 months, surpassing the government’s full-year target of 9 million, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

However, the government figures are generally believed to underestimate the extent of problems in the job market, since many of China’s 290 million migrant workers are not included or covered by government unemployment relief measures.

Beijing has taken limited steps this year to boost employment, such as promoting street vending and flexible jobs, which have helped improve jobless statistics but done little for workers’ incomes.

The world’s second largest economy will face even greater employment pressure next year. A record high of about 9.09 million university graduates will enter the job market, increasing from 8.74 million this year, the Ministry of Education said.

Many small businesses, particularly in China’s services sector, remain vulnerable to the lingering impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Zhang Jinan, the minister for Human Resources and Social Security, has called for policies that provide timely support for the unemployed, including living subsidies, job vacancy information and training.

“Public service positions are needed if there’s not enough created by the market,” he wrote last month in a book outlining the government’s long-term devlopment vision.

Structural issues – including skilled labour shortages and a lack of information about available jobs – were big problems that the government must help tackle, he said.

“These phenomena will stand out as economic restructuring and industrial upgrading continues,” he added.

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