A pair of surveys this week showed very different snapshots of China’s job market, with an official one showing a falling unemployment rate and a private one indicating deep troubles.
It comes at a time of growing concerns over whether China’s economic slowdown during the trade war with the US will translate into serious job losses.
China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said on Wednesday that the urban registered jobless rate, which measures only urban residents who register with the government as unemployed, fell to 3.82 per cent at the end of September, from 3.83 per cent at the end of June.
Ministry spokesman Lu Aihong said demand for labour “remained stable” in the third quarter.
However, a private survey released a day before the official data showed a different picture.
Both job openings and applicants shrank significantly in China in the third quarter, according to a survey conducted by Zhaopin, a major Chinese online job agency, and an institute at Renmin University of China, painting a gloomy picture of employment in the world’s second-biggest economy.
The number of job openings in the July-September period shrank 27 per cent this year from the third quarter last year, led by a 51 per cent fall in demand for staff in internet-related businesses, while the number of job applicants dropped 10 per cent, according to the survey, which is largely based on online job openings and jobseeker data.
It was the first time since 2011 that both openings and applicants had fallen in the third quarter on a year-on-year basis, Zhaopin said, releasing the results.
According to the survey, the number of job openings fell 21 per cent in the third quarter from the second quarter, while the number of jobseekers fell 24 per cent – a fall in supply in the labour market that can be explained partly by the graduation season in summer.
At the same time, there were still 1.97 job openings per applicant, up slightly from 1.88 in the previous quarter thanks to the fall in jobseekers but also down from 2.43 in the third quarter of 2017.
A survey conducted by the human resources ministry, covering 100 state-run job fairs, showed that there were 1.25 positions available for every jobseeker in the third quarter.
Employment data in China is always an issue of debate. The traditional official measure, the urban registered jobless rate, released quarterly, covers only part of the story and can significantly underestimate the true unemployment situation.
When the global financial crisis hit Chinese exports in 2008, throwing 20 million migrant workers out of work, the official data did not reflect it at all because rural migrant workers were not covered.
From April, China’s statistics bureau started publishing a monthly “surveyed” jobless rate to offer a more accurate and frequent gauge of the job market. The surveyed rate, which covered migrant workers from rural areas seeking jobs in cities, rose to 4.9 per cent at the end of September from 4.8 per cent at the end of June.
The job market is a key factor influencing Beijing’s economic policies. At a Politburo meeting on Wednesday chaired by President Xi Jinping, the country’s top leadership decided the priority for the country was to “stabilise” employment along with trade, investment and market expectations.
Separately, the employment sub-index in China’s official purchasing managers’ index, which measures employment in manufacturing businesses, fell further to 48.1 in October from 48.3 in September and 49.4 in August, the statistics bureau said on Wednesday. A reading below 50 means contraction.