China’s Slowdown Already Hit Its Factories. Now Its Offices Are Hurting, Too.
Chinese leaders have acknowledged that creating jobs could be a challenge. During his annual news conference on Friday, Li Keqiang, China’s premier, said that Beijing would make employment for college graduates and laid-off workers a priority this year.
China does not disclose reliable jobs or layoff data, so the full impact of the slowdown is not clear. Some surveys show there is still high demand for jobs in certain sectors. But multiple signs point to trouble for other office workers.
One measure, based on a survey of services businesses, suggests shrinking employment in a variety of industries. Search results from Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, analyzed by Nomura, the Japanese bank, show the term “job seeking” rose to a high in December. Human resources executives and senior staff at tech firms, property developers and other large private companies described layoffs in recent months of up to 30 percent at some firms involving hundreds of workers, according to a recent survey by the research firm Global Source Partners.
On one major job recruitment website, Zhilian, the number of openings across all sectors posted in the fourth quarter fell 10 percent from the same period in 2017. New positions at technology firms and internet start-ups fell 51 percent in the third quarter of 2018 from a year earlier.
China’s office workers have suffered during past slowdowns, but cuts now have a broader impact as the country’s economy matures and they become a bigger part of the work force.
For workers like Sherry Xu, the weakened job market undermines the basic premise that a college education leads to a more secure future than a factory job. Ms. Xu, a 34-year-old finance professional, attended a prestigious university, and then rose through the ranks of the finance industry.
Recently, Ms. Xu was called into a meeting with human resources, right after she finished pitching to a group of potential investors. Her employer, a financial firm, was having a difficult time, she was told. Layoffs would start soon. She would be among them.