HK jobless rate highest in over 10 years at 5.2%

The unemployment woes are being worsened by reduced recruitment of university graduates.
The unemployment woes are being worsened by reduced recruitment of university graduates.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Hong Kong's unemployment rate hit 5.2 per cent last month - the seventh straight month of increase and the highest in over a decade - as the pandemic continues to batter an economy already in recession.

This rate, for the period of Feb 1 to April 30, is up from the average of 4.2 per cent recorded in the three months to March 31, the Census and Statistics Department said yesterday. It is the highest since October 2009. The underemployment rate is up as well, adding 1 percentage point to 3.1 per cent last month - the highest in over 15 years.

The number of those jobless went up by 40,300 to 202,500 as of April 30, while the number of those underemployed rose by about 35,800 to 118,600.

Total employment fell by about 62,600 to 3.66 million last month.

The labour force shrank by about 22,400 to 3.86 million people over the same period.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi Kwong noted that the labour market showed further sharp deterioration as the Covid-19 pandemic continued to weigh on a wide range of economic activities.

"The year-on-year declines in total employment and labour force widened further to 5.4 per cent and 3 per cent respectively, both the largest on record," he said.

Mr Law said the unemployment rate of the consumption-and tourism-related sectors such as retail, accommodation and food services hit 9 per cent - the highest in more than 15 years. The underemployment rate for these sectors also rose to a record 5.9 per cent.

Labour market conditions in most other sectors also deteriorated, particularly in education, information and communications, professional and business services (excluding cleaning and similar activities), the arts, entertainment and recreation.

"The labour market will continue to face immense pressure in the near term," warned Mr Law, who added that the government "has rolled out relief measures of unprecedented scale", which should help workers keep their jobs.

The unemployment woes are being worsened by reduced recruitment of university graduates as businesses struggle to stay afloat.

  • 3.1%

    Hong Kong's underemployment rate in April - the highest in over 15 years.

    9%

    Unemployment rate of the city's consumption-and tourism-related sectors.

The latest data ties in with the bleak outlook painted by Ms Annie Yau Tse, chair of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association. She estimated in a Bloomberg article that a quarter of the 62,400 retail shops could disappear by December if sales do not improve. Most landlords are willing to cut rents by 10 per cent to 20 per cent, far from the retail industry's demand of 50 per cent or more, she said.

Hong Kong's gross domestic product (GDP) suffered its worst decline in the first quarter, contracting 8.9 per cent from a year earlier. Full-year GDP is expected to shrink between 4 per cent and 7 per cent.

The news comes as the Hong Kong government yesterday announced the extension of existing social distancing rules, including a ban on gatherings of more than eight people, until June 4 - the day of the annual vigil marking the Tiananmen crackdown.

The number of new confirmed infections in the past 28 days ranged from zero to four, with most days not recording any new case. But Chief Executive Carrie Lam yesterday morning urged the public to remain vigilant while she dismissed allegations that the extension was meant to suppress protests and is a result of political considerations.

Religious gatherings are now exempted from the eight-people ban but there can be no food and drinks. Karaoke lounges, nightclubs and party rooms will remain shut until May 28.

Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the ban on other gatherings was extended as a local cluster of infections was found in Tsuen Wan last week. She added that more tests will be conducted as the measures ease.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at 1,055, including four deaths.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2020, with the headline 'HK jobless rate highest in over 10 years at 5.2%'. Print Edition | Subscribe