China says unemployment at 3.95%, lowest in years, but challenges persist

Job seekers fill in application forms during a job fair in Shanghai.
Job seekers fill in application forms during a job fair in Shanghai.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China’s unemployment rate has hit its lowest rate in multiple years at 3.95 per cent by the end of September, but employment and social security still face challenges as the economy pushes ahead with structural reforms. 

The ministry of human resources and social security said in a statement on Sunday (Oct 22) that 10.97 million new jobs had been created in 
China from January to September this year, a growth of 300,000 compared with the previous year. 

The figure represents having essentially fulfilled the ministry’s year-end target, the ministry said in a pre-prepared statement given to reporters. 

Premier Li Keqiang said in March that China added 13.14 million new urban jobs in 2016 and aims to add another 11 million this year while keeping the registered unemployment rate below 4.5 per cent. 

Despite being ahead of schedule, Yin Weimin, head of the ministry, told reporters that employment and social security in China sill face difficulties and challenges. He did not elaborate. 

JOBS FOR 15 MILLION PEOPLE

China needs to create jobs for 15 million people every year and will maintain support for entrepreneurship to help achieve this, added Yin, singling out China's more than 8 million new university graduates that enter the job market each year as one group in need of additional employment. 

Yin also said the low unemployment rate in the face of an overall slowdown in the economy was largely due to the new Internet economy and entrepreneurship, adding that the ministry would actively support startups to help them “thrive”. 

From 2015 to 2020 every 1 per cent increase in GDP is expected to equal roughly 1.8 million new jobs, Yin said. 

Premier Li Keqiang said in March that China added 13.14 million new urban jobs in 2016 and aims to add another 11 million this year while keeping the registered unemployment rate below 4.5 per cent. 

The announcement was made as a part of a once-ever-five-years congress of the ruling Communist Party, which opened on Wednesday and runs until next Tuesday.  At the congress, the Party sets broad policy directions and reshuffles top leaders.

As China’s economy slows, Beijing has made increasing efforts to stave off mass unemployment that may spark social unrest.  

China’s official unemployment rate has remained generally stable as economic growth has dipped to a 26-year low and the government forges ahead with ambitious plans to cut back on industrial capacity. 

Many analysts say, however, that the government figure is an unreliable indicator of national employment conditions.  On an annual basis, the official unemployment rate was last below 4 per cent in 2001, when it was 3.6 per cent, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

The rate ended 2016 at 4.02 per cent after not budging from 4.1 per cent from 2010-2015.  The government has said that some sectors, especially those targeted by capacity cuts, such as coal and steel, still show signs of unresolved employment challenges. 

The ministry of human resources in April said that China would need to resettle about half a million workers that lose jobs in the coal and steel sectors this year and will speed up development of a “black list” system for firms with wage arrears.