China’s Premier, Li Keqiang, has said repeatedly how happy he is with the strength of the country’s job market, despite a slowing economy. That’s the main reason he sees little need to ease policy aggressively to spur growth, he says.
Officials attribute low unemployment to a drop in the working-age population, along with the development of the service sector, which is more labor-intensive than manufacturing.
But a deeper look into the government’s jobs data shows that the current employment situation is more worrisome than it appears. Across China’s cities, 10.82 million new jobs were created over the first nine months of the year, up 1.5% from the same period of 2013, according to official data released on Friday. That’s slowest rise in five years.
Migrant workers are normally the first to take the brunt of an economic slowdown, since more than one fifth of them work in the construction sector, which is highly sensitive to economic cycles. Employers also tend fire migrant workers first if business is bad rather than laying off urbanites with permanent resident status, economists have said.
“Over the past few years, especially after 2009, the government stepped up investment in infrastructure and property market. That has created many job opportunities for migrant workers,” said Li Shi, an economics professor at Beijing Normal University. “But now a sluggish property market has affected migrant workers.”
The government responded with a four trillion yuan ($650 billion) stimulus package that helped China rebound rapidly from the global downturn, but also resulted in a series of problems such as industrial overcapacity and environmental pollution.
This time around the economic situation is less dire, and the reaction has been more restrained. Since economic growth started to falter earlier this year, policy makers have contented themselves with a series of targeted easing measures like accelerated spending on infrastructure and special lending programs from the central bank. They have also brought in measures to spur mortgage lending and reduce financing costs and tax burdens for small firms.