China’s youth unemployment rate, which is currently at a record high of 21%, may actually be as high as 46.5%. This can be attributed to the presence of fake jobs and the phenomenon of 16 million workers choosing to lie flat.

China's youth unemployment rate, which is currently at a record high of 21%, may actually be as high as 46.5%. This can be attributed to the presence of fake jobs and the phenomenon of 16 million workers choosing to lie flat.

The Reality of Youth Unemployment in China

Unemployment in China

China’s youth unemployment rate has reached alarming levels, with the country’s newest entrants to the workforce facing a difficult job market for years. However, the situation has deteriorated dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, the unemployment rate for Chinese aged 16 to 24 hit a record high of 21.3%, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This is significantly higher compared to a 4.1% unemployment rate for those aged 25 to 59.

While the official statistics present a concerning picture, the reality on the ground may be even worse than what is being reported. Peking University economics professor Zhang Dandan believes that the true unemployment rate could be as high as 46.5%. This discrepancy is because China calculates its unemployment rate by only including people actively seeking work, whereas in the United States, those available for work are also counted.

In an article for the Chinese financial magazine Caixin, Zhang explained that there are approximately 16 million young Chinese workers who have essentially opted out of the labor market. This phenomenon, known as “lying flat,” means that they are not being officially counted in the unemployment statistics. Similar to the “quiet quitting” movement in the United States, Chinese youth have adopted a minimalist lifestyle and embraced “lying flat” as a way to reject the societal pressure to overwork in China.

The surge in the youth unemployment rate has prompted some Chinese parents to explore unusual solutions, including paying their adult children to be “full-time children.” However, President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party have taken a different approach. They are calling on young, educated Chinese to take on blue-collar roles they may consider themselves overqualified for and “actively seek hardship.” In May, Beijing put forward a 15-point plan to boost youth employment, which included measures like increasing support for worker retraining and the creation of new government jobs.

The Ministry of Education in China has also taken a firm stance against universities in an attempt to lower the country’s unemployment rate. Any college majors with employment rates lower than 60% for two consecutive years could potentially be canceled. Given that most Chinese universities receive state funding, administrators face significant financial pressure to achieve their employment goals. Unfortunately, this pressure has led some schools to coerce graduates into falsifying employment records.

The situation has become so dire that the Ministry of Education has started cracking down on universities. They have promised to punish those involved in falsifying employment records as part of a sweeping investigation into the accuracy of employment data. The ministry has urged universities to uphold the principle of genuine and accurate employment data and scrutinize the employment materials of each graduate.

The challenges facing China’s youth unemployment are multifaceted. The combination of a difficult job market, societal pressures, and potential data manipulation make it crucial for authorities to address these issues and develop sustainable solutions. While the road ahead may be challenging, it is essential to support young people in finding meaningful employment opportunities and creating a more balanced work-life environment.