After suspending the public release of youth unemployment rates last year, China started distributing the information again on Wednesday, using a different measurement criteria that lowered the figure significantly.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics stopped announcing the jobless rate among 16- to 24-year-olds after the figure climbed for six consecutive months to 21.3 percent in June, a record high. The government said when it suspended the numbers for July that the collection of the information needed to be “further improved and optimized.”
The growing number of unemployed young people had become an inconvenient data point that seemed to rebut Beijing’s assertion that the country’s economy was recovering after the lifting of pandemic restrictions.
The government agency said the revamped jobless figures now exclude students in school. After adjusting its calculation methods, the bureau said jobless rates among 16- to 24-year-olds stood at 14.9 percent in December.
Kang Yi, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a news conference that this methodology produced “a more accurate monitor of youth unemployment” because it separates young people looking for part-time jobs while in school from those looking for full-time jobs after graduation. He noted that graduates need to find work, but the main task of students was “to study, not to work part time.”
He Yafu, an independent demographer based in the southern city of Zhanjiang in Guangdong Province, said he believes the change in measurement helped to lower the main figure, although he thinks just as many young people are jobless.
In another change, the statistics bureau said it created a new age bracket for measuring unemployment. China said it will now track jobless rates among 25- to 29-year-olds, who had been lumped in with a broader 25- to 59-year-old group. The change was necessary because more young people are going to graduate school before entering the job market, the bureau said.
Part of the challenge for Chinese policymakers is the growing number of college graduates entering the job market. In 2024, the number of college graduates is expected to rise nearly two percent to a record 11.79 million, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. The number of graduates has quadrupled since 2004.
It remains hard for many young Chinese to find jobs, because the overall economy is sluggish compared to the rapid growth of the past. At the same time, the government has cracked down on once-vibrant industries such as online education, technology and real estate, where young people had flocked for jobs. As a result, scores of highly-educated young Chinese — who were told from an early age that education would provide them opportunities for a better life — are confronted with the reality that the jobs they want are not available.
“As for this year’s job market, the pressure is still there,” Mr. Kang conceded. But he pointed to some reasons for optimism, including economic growth that will create more jobs. And he said more people are now leaving the work force this year, mainly through retirement, than are entering it.
“They will provide more space for the job seekers,” he said.
Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing.