1 in 5 young people in China can't find a job – and that's a big problem for Xi Jinping

1 in 5 young people in China can't find a job – and that's a big problem for Xi Jinping
A recruiter talks to a student at a job fair at a university in Yantai, Shandong province.Tang Ke/Future Publishing via Getty Images
  • Many young Chinese are finding it impossible to get a job in the country's bumpy economy.
  • One in five 16 to 24-year-olds – a record high – in China are unemployed.

China has a lot of young people, and a lot of these recent graduates are all facing the same problem: they can't find a job.

Youth unemployment continues to hit new highs, with 21.3% of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work in the second quarter of this year, according to official figures.

China's economy is facing perhaps its biggest challenges since a manufacturing boom sent its economy into overdrive in the last couple of decades.

While continuing to grow, a GDP increase of 6.3% was way off economists' expectations, according to polling by Reuters.

Then there's the labor market. It's comparable to the economy young people in the US faced as they left college in the depth of the financial crisis in 2008/9. About 18% of US youth were unemployed in 2010, showing the extent of China's problem.


While things should get better if the economy rebounds, there's a more existential issue facing China's young people.

According to David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, many Chinese graduates just aren't suited to the workforce they're trying to enter.

"Most young people in China go to college and there are not enough jobs for these graduates," he told Insider.

Dollar added that China's economy was still too dependent on exports and investment – sectors that typically don't employ a lot of college grads.

"If China relied more on consumption for demand, that would help because consumption is mostly services and sectors such as media, entertainment, education, health, finance, and telecom are where the jobs will be.


Normally, youth unemployment can be a nightmare for the country's leaders. While young people typically vote in fewer numbers than their elders, disenfranchisement caused by joblessness is usually enough to force some instability.

China's president, Xi Jinping, doesn't need to worry about being embarrassed by voters of course. Yet economic instability among China's young threatens to give him an unwanted headache nonetheless.

The world's second-largest economy is in the grips of a demographic crisis as its population ages rapidly. It's partly the result of China's former one-child policy.

There are wider existential issues facing young employees the world over, with the AI boom forcing many to completely reassess their skillset and career aspirations.

With China's export and investor-heavy economy already excluding young workers, the country's labor market is facing an identity crisis.


If Xi can't get the next generation into jobs, the task of reigniting and transforming China's floundering economy will become infinitely more difficult.