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Graduates and Unemployment

SHENZHEN, DECEMBER 16-- Xiao Luo copies down information from employment ads cluttering the walls of the Shenzhen Employment Center into his bulging notebook. In his left hand he carries an old plastic bag with resumes, a bottle of water, and a thick coat. Like many, he is a college senior now looking for post-graduate work.
According to him, there are countless work opportunities in Shenzhen, but the great majority require at least three years worth of experience. Demand for graduating students is low. 
"Except for graduates from Peiking and Qinghua University, it's really difficult for this year's graduates to find work," he says.
Xiao Luo pays 10 yuan a night for a dorm-style bunk in an inn a few kilometers away from the Center. Almost everyone else staying there is also in the same predicament-- a college student looking for work. They come from as near and far as Henan, Jiangxi, Shandong, and Heilongjiang. Some have been there for months.
But the high cost of living in Shenzhen doesn't make it easy. At Xiao Luo's college he could eat breakfast for one yuan, but in Shenzhen even three yuan is not enough to buy a filling one. In order to save money he has already given up on it. His first meal is at noon, when he walks a kilometer to reach the cheapest dining hall he knows of. 
"Every time I'm upstairs at the Job Center looking at the car dealerships and skyscrapers, I feel like it's all just a dream, a dream that is gradually becoming more and more distant from me," he says.
The same story is being played out in Beijing.
It's December 17. Xiao Lin gets up at 6 a.m. to put on her best clothes and makeup. Hugging a pile of resumes she hurries to the Beijing International Exhibition Center.
She is a 24-year-old student at Hunan College earning a Masters of Arts. In order to find work ahead of graduation next June, as early as this past August she had been looking for work in Beijing. While still taking classes, this rural Anhui native imagined countless times what she would do after graduation: pay off her 20,000 yuan in college loans and work hard to support her parents. 

But this requires her to find satisfactory work. "Our maturation and studying are all a production process. Only in finding work, in putting oneself out there, can one complete the leap from an unfinished product to a finished one. If you sell yourself short, the original investment won't be made back," she says.
Xiao Lin carries an interview schedule dating from last September to February 2007. She knew a month ago about one interview scheduled for today.
At 10 a.m., Xiao Lin discovers an investment consulting company is interviewing for an position. After waiting an hour on a packed line she is finally able to sit down at the desk.
The human affairs manager stops what she is doing to formally introduce themself. They seem very interested in her at first, but when salary is mentioned the atmosphere suddenly becomes tense. 
"What are your requirements?" they ask. "As long as I can maintain a basic lifestyle and save a little. Hopefully, not lower than 1500 a month," she responds. This is a number that she has come up with after being rejected countless times in the past. Suddenly a girl behind Xiao Lin exclaims, "I'll do it for 800!"
Xiao Lin cannot understand how someone could survive in Beijing with a salary of 800 yuan a month. How could so many recent graduates be willing to work for so little? She calculated it for us quickly: 500 yuan a month for rent, 400 for food, 100 for transportation, 100 for a cell phone, and 200 for incidentals... no matter how she counted it, it simply wasn't enough. 
In order to avoid the spike in unemployment when she first graduated, Xiao chose to remain at school and earn a graduate degree, thus having to spend two more years worth of tuition and living expenses. But two years later the unemployment situation seems even worse.
As the recently published Beijing Graduating Student Employment Center's 2006 Survey points out, almost two-thirds of recent college graduates make less than 2,000 yuan a month. They can barely cover their basic living expenses. 

At one station in the Exhibition Center, a staff member organized a huge pile of job applications. Ninety percent of them have "1,000 to 2,000 yuan" written as the expected entrance salary.
In 1999 China's universities started to increase admissions as part of a national policy. After the first wave of students have been in society for three years, they've developed more rational perspectives towards employment. The big city, good industry, high salary expectations have weakened.
Ren Zhanzhong, director of the Center says tells the Economic Observer that the average salary of 2006 graduates was 2,262.31 yuan. But discrepancies in salaries between different industries was very large, and many salaries were lower than 800 yuan.
According Ren Zhanzhong, businesses think this is normal compensation because they have no way of knowing how adaptable and capable these new hires will be. They must be trained and tested before they can be used to their full potential.
Chen Jun, deputy director of the National Employment Mobility Center, uses both "first-time unemployed" and "second-time unemployed" figures to assess this phenomenon. "It's like the housing market," she says. "The first property that is bought just has to satisfy basic needs; the second purchase aims to improve one's lifestyle. Generall speaking, the first job one takes does not bear much in terms of salary or experience. 
According to figures by the National Development and Reform Commission, there will be almost five million college students graduating in 2007, an increase of 820,000 over 2006. 200,000 will be coming from Beijing, a 20,000 increase over 2006.
Ren Zhanzhong says that this kind of situation will be the norm for the next few years, with no improvement in employment opportunities. "Supply and demand are where they are, there's nothing that can be done about it." 
But the government has been working hard to help graduating students get jobs.
Chen tells this reporter that officials have decided to focus on employment for recent graduates during 2007, with a series of measures already being considered in order to improve the employment environment for them. At the beginning of this month, Lenovo, Qingdao Beer, Renhe Group, and 76 others became the first batch of firms approved for employing recent graduates under a new internship framework. 
Chen points out that efforts to establish 1,000 centers offering internships to college graduates are also an important step.

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