China reports steady youth unemployment as data paints mixed economic picture

A job fair in a mall in Beijing. The jobless rate among China’s youth remained steady in March. PHOTO: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS
A job fair in a mall in Beijing. The jobless rate among China’s youth remained steady in March. PHOTO: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

Summary

China’s youth unemployment rate remained steady in March, in what could be seen by some as a tentative sign that the world’s second-largest economy is gradually stabilizing.

China’s youth unemployment rate remained steady in March, in what could be seen by some as a tentative sign that the world’s second-largest economy is gradually stabilizing.

The jobless rate among China’s 16- to 24-year-olds—excluding those enrolled in school—stayed at 15.3% last month, the same as in February, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics on Thursday. That is broadly in line with figures earlier this week showing that overall headline unemployment stood at 5.2% in March, ticking down from the prior month’s 5.3%.

The jobs numbers come after China surprised markets with strong growth in the first quarter of the year as Beijing doubled down on its manufacturing drive. Despite the upbeat figure, economists warn that it isn’t the time for complacency as wider activity data for March pointed to tepid consumer demand and continued distress in the property sector. A high rate of youth unemployment could exacerbate concerns about weak household spending, but Thursday’s data will likely be taken with a pinch of salt after changes to how the rate is calculated make it harder to interpret.

China’s statistics bureau suspended the release of the youth jobless rate in June last year after the figure climbed for six straight months to a record high of 21.3%. It resumed releasing the series in January this year with a new methodology that excludes young people who are still studying. That exclusion is unusual compared with how other nations, including the U.S. and European countries report employment figures, treating full-time students much the same as long as they have been looking for jobs.

Excluding students in school, unemployment among China’s 25- to 29-year-olds rose to 7.2% in March from February’s 6.4%, while that among the 30- to 59-year-old age group declined to 4.1% from 4.2% over the period, according to the official data.

The tweaked metrics on youth unemployment is one of several moves taken by Chinese authorities in recent years that have made it increasingly difficult for outside watchers to gauge the health of the economic powerhouse.

Last week, China’s two main stock exchanges said they plan to stop displaying real-time data for cash flows into the county’s stock market via Hong Kong, a move that would eliminate a closely watched indicator of foreign sentiment toward Chinese equities.

The Shanghai and Shenzhen bourses said the move will take effect in about a month, adding that turnover details will be published daily after market close.

Write to Singapore editors at singaporeeditors@dowjones.com

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