China will no longer publish (bad) youth unemployment data

Politics & Current Affairs

Drastically worsening youth unemployment numbers in China have caused the government to temporarily — or perhaps permanently — stop their publication.

People attend a job fair in a mall in Beijing, China, June 30, 2023. Thomas Peter, Reuters.

Earlier today, Fù Línghui 付凌晖, a spokesman for China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), announced that the bureau would suspend publication of data on jobless youth while it seeks to “optimize” collection methods.

Fu stated that while the number of university students has continued to expand, “society has different views on whether students looking for jobs before graduation should be included in labor force surveys and statistics,” as per Reuters. And hence the issue “needs further research.”

The announcement elicited derision on Chinese social media, with some users on Weibo accusing the government of “burying its head in the sand.”

Official figures published today showed China’s overall unemployment rate had risen to 5.3% in July from 5.2% a month earlier, the first increase since February.

In June, the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in urban areas — a stat that China began reporting in 2018 — hit a record level of 21.3%, a concerning sign for the economy. A record high of 11.58 million university graduates will join the job market this year, up from 10.76 million in 2022.

A stream of negative data

The announcement comes after sharp falls in China’s imports and exports in July, and after foreign direct investment (FDI) dropped to a 25-year low in the second quarter. Beijing is also struggling to spur growth in consumption amid a new liquidity crisis in the property sector. China’s currency, today standing at 7.31 to the U.S. dollar, is at its weakest level since November 2022.

Earlier today, the People’s Bank of China unexpectedly cut the benchmark interest rate on one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans by 15 basis points, in an attempt to inject liquidity into the sputtering economy.The rate is now at its lowest level since it was launched in 2014.

Disappearing data

The termination of youth unemployment data is the latest in a series of moves to restrict the flow of economic data that is making it harder to do business in China. In October 2022, China “indefinitely” delayed the publication of headline third-quarter data (the data was eventually released later in the month after a Communist Party Congress that secured Xí Jìnpíng’s 习近平 third term as leader).

Earlier this year, the NBS ceased the public release of monthly data on consumer confidence. Since China’s GDP growth started declining a decade ago, the government has stopped publication of tens of thousands of economic statistics.

China’s recent phase of walling off its information started in September 2022 when the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) began implementing regulations that require the review of major exports of data. Overseas users have reported losing access to major Chinese databases key to global scholarship and commerce services.

In addition to the regulations on data exports, China recently revised its anti-espionage law “to expand the scope of targets of espionage, with all documents, data, materials, and articles” related to national security.