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China's Youth Unemployment Rate: Are the Official Figures Telling the Whole Story?

A Peking University Professor Estimates Youth Unemployment at Nearly 50%, More Than Double the Reported Figures

China's published youth unemployment statistics may tell a skewed narrative, according to a recent analysis by a Peking University professor. Official data released for March reported a 19.7% unemployment rate among the country's young population, but Professor Zhang Dandan suggests a much grimmer picture - an unemployment rate closer to 46.5%.

Zhang's findings, published in financial magazine Caixin, include 16 million non-students who are not actively job hunting in her estimation of the youth unemployment rate. Her approach doubles the unemployment rate presented by the National Bureau of Statistics for the same period. By June, the Bureau's reported unemployment rate had risen to 21.3%, which, by Zhang's metrics, could suggest an even higher alternative rate.

It's worth noting that the US Labor Department's reported unemployment rate also doesn't account for Americans who have stopped actively looking for work. However, it provides alternative measures of unemployment, and its rate, inclusive of "discouraged" workers, was only slightly higher at 3.7% in June compared to the headline rate of 3.6%.

While the Chinese economy continues to grow, its recovery trajectory post-COVID has been less robust than expected. This downturn has disproportionately impacted younger demographics, contributing to the emergence of the "lying flat" phenomenon, where college graduates, disheartened about their future prospects, continue to depend on their parents for sustenance.

The article by Zhang, which has since been taken down, identified stalling growth in some of China's key manufacturing hubs as a major contributing factor to the youth unemployment issue.

She wrote, "Employment there only recovered to two-thirds of pre-COVID levels till March when COVID faded. Young people remain major workers in the manufacturing sector, so they were hit more badly."

According to Zhang's analysis, it is these underreported figures that reveal the real extent of the youth unemployment challenge in China.

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