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Hong Kong's Unemployment Hits Record High - 2002-02-21

Hong Kong's unemployment rate hit a record high in the past three months, as the global recession continues to hit hard. The territory's unemployment rate for November through January averaged 6.7 percent - topping the previous record set in 1999.

The Hong Kong government says job losses were seen in most industries - but construction, retailing and restaurants were among some of the hardest hit. In addition, the government says the total number of workers rose, as people from mainland China continue to move to the autonomous Chinese territory, hoping for jobs.

Ian Perkin, chief economist for the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, says the big increase is a surprise, and a worry, because it came during what is normally the busiest season for shops and restaurants.

Although the government last year started programs to create jobs, Mr. Perkin thinks there is little the government can do. The problem, he says, is global. "What we're really suffering from is the slowdown in the global economy, the slowdown in the regional economy, and then the slowdown in global trade," he said. "Until those things turn around, I don't think there is much we can do."

Hong Kong is in its second recession since 1998, when the economy slumped during the Asian economic crisis. Mr. Perkin says many companies that avoided layoffs a few years ago are finding they can not hold on now, and are shedding workers quickly.

He thinks the unemployment rate could soon hit seven percent and may go even higher, as more migrants join newly laid off workers in the hunt for jobs.