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Is Chinese Youth Unemployment As Bad As It Looks?

China’s exceptional growth in recent decades has influenced the education and career choices of young people and their families. But now that high-skilled jobs are drying up and recent graduates are struggling to find work, there is a growing mismatch between expectations and new realities.

CHICAGO – China’s youth unemployment rate, after rising every month this year, reached a record high of 21.3% in June. Faced with hypercompetitive work environments and grim job prospects, many of the country’s young workers and middle-class professionals have embraced the “lying flat”  movement – which means opting out of the culture of overwork and consumerism – while others have quit to become “full-time children.” In the wake of these startling trends, the Chinese government has stopped publishing monthly youth-unemployment data, triggering a stream of negative headlines about China’s economic “collapse.”

But is China’s economy really in dire straits? The short answer is no. Since emerging from COVID-19 lockdowns last year, the country’s rebound has been relatively strong. The Chinese economy grew by 6.3% year on year in the second quarter of 2023, outpacing the average annual growth rate of OECD countries.

Moreover, the International Monetary Fund expects China’s GDP to expand by 5.2% this year and 4.5% next year – much higher than its forecasts for the United States (1.6% and 1.1%, respectively), the United Kingdom (-0.3% and 1%), and Germany (-0.1% and 1.1%). Even the rise of jobless young people in China is less concerning when compared to OECD countries like Spain, Italy, and Sweden, where youth unemployment rates have hovered around 20% for many years.