Yin Weimin, China’s minister of human resources and social security spent four days in the Pearl River Delta at the end of October investigating the job situation. On returning to Beijing, he dispatched six groups nationwide to carry out further research. But the job market got so bad so quickly, Yin had to rush through emergency measures, such as an increase in the minimum wage, before his charges had returned.
The migrant worker: In November, Sun Guang returned home to Henan province. He had spent 10 years in Guangzhou, but for the last eight months he was jobless following factory closures. He is one of the casualties of the 67,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that closed in the first half of 2008.
"SMEs are undoubtedly most vulnerable to the impact of the global financial crisis. And rural migrants are the first victims of the external shock," observed Du Yang, director of the Labor and Human Resource Institute under China’s Academy of Social Sciences.
Many factory owners simply cut and run rather than face complicated bankruptcy proceedings. Staff are often left unpaid, prompting riots in certain cases. Local governments scurry in to pick up the pieces, reflecting Beijing’s concerns that these intermittent bouts of social unrest could gather momentum. However, the government can only do so much and independent economist Andy Xie believes they may be fighting a losing battle.
"During the recession in 1998, China overcame these problems by turning to exports but it won’t be so lucky this time," Xie said. He estimates that one in five migrant workers will lose their jobs.
The unemployed graduate: On November 30, 775,000 people participated in China’s civil service examinations. Only one in 57 will be recruited. Wang Jin, a graduate student from the Peking University law school, was among the applicants. She knows her hopes are slim, but trips to job fairs in search of alternative employment have so far proved fruitless.
"One of my classmates received an offer from a private firm, with a very low starting salary," Wang said. "But a week after that, the offer was withdrawn because the firm had to make job cuts."
Demand and supply
This year, 5.59 million college graduates will join China’s legions of job seekers. The outlook is bleak. Though no large firm has publicly announced large-scale job cuts, recruitment website 51job.com said vacant positions in October fell sharply compared with the previous month.
"Financial services, trade and real estate are the sectors in which recruitment has slowed most rapidly," said Hao Jian-zeng, a consultant with Zhaopin.com, another recruitment website.