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China's University Graduates Struggle for Jobs - 2004-08-23

Although China's economy is growing at breakneck speed, urban unemployment is also on the rise. Graduating students are facing particularly tough job market this summer. For these graduating university students picking up their school transcripts in Beijing, the end of the school year should be a happy time. Ideally, they would all enjoy a few months of freedom before starting their first full-time jobs. But this is not almost a million students from China's graduating class of 2004 have spent the summer. At a crowded job fair in Beijing, students crowd in to compete with older and more experienced job hunters. He Zhang was looking for new employees for his logistics company in Beijing. He says there are so many people looking for work that companies can afford to be very choosy.

"Some companies have high requirements," said He Zhang. "College students should be fine for them but they raised their standards, asking for university graduates or even postgraduates. So, a lot of university students are shut out."

China has long struggled with rising unemployment. Officially, 4.3 percent of the urban population is unemployed. However, those figures do not include workers laid off from state enterprises, who often are listed as employed, even though they are unpaid and do no work. And there are as many as 200 million rural and migrant workers who either or jobless, or manage to find part-time manual labor. Those university graduates who do manage to find work are often disappointed by their paychecks. A study by China's Beijing University says entry-level wages have fallen to an average of $200 a month, down from $250 one year ago.

What is more, many of the jobs available are seen as poor careers, or offering little chance of advancement. One job seeker explains her dilemma.

"It isn't difficult to find a simple job but it is relatively difficult to find a position that allows you to develop your skills," complained Ms. Niu. Some use a Chinese proverb to explain the dismal employment situation: Too many monks, too little porridge. It means too many graduating students are competing for only a few job openings. A few years ago, the government decided to reduce unemployment figures by increasing the number of places at China's universities, thus absorbing millions of secondary school graduates who otherwise would be jobless. Now, all those extra students are graduating university and there are not enough jobs to go around. Graduate Xiao Li spent six months looking for a teaching job in Beijing until she settled for a lower-paid position in southern China.

"The expanded enrollment makes it more and more difficult to find a job," she explained. "And now everyone wants a stable, well-paid job that suits them, it's just impossible!" The government has promised to ensure that 70 percent of nearly three million graduating students will find jobs this year, but they are competing with approximately 24 million urban job seekers. And the job market is only expected to get worse next year.

A record number of new graduates, approximately three and a half million, will enter the job market next June.