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China stops releasing youth unemployment data after it hit consecutive record highs

<i>Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>People select shoes in a shopping mall in Beijing on June 15.
Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images
People select shoes in a shopping mall in Beijing on June 15.

By Laura He, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — China has suspended the release of monthly data on joblessness among young people, after the figure hit consecutive record highs in recent months amid a broader economic slump.

The news, which drew immediate backlash and ridicule on social media, was announced by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Tuesday, when it released its regular batch of monthly economic indicators. Previously, the NBS unveiled urban unemployment rates for 16- to 24-year olds each month.

Fu Linghui, a spokesman for the NBS, explained it was because the current statistics “need to be improved.”

The number of students in the age group has grown in recent years and their main task should be to study, rather than to seek jobs, he said.

“Whether the students looking for jobs before graduation should be included … is something that people have different views on. It needs further research,” he added.

Defining the age range of “young job seekers” also needs further study, as young people are now spending more years in school, he added.

The NBS will now conduct “in-depth research” to improve its methodology, Fu said, adding that the data will be released again once the process is completed. He did not give a time frame.

The suspension comes after China’s youth unemployment rate hit consecutive record highs in recent months. From April to June, the jobless rate for 16- to 24-year-olds reached 20.4%, 20.8% and 21.3% respectively.

The announcement quickly became a trending topic online.

“What they really meant to say is, the current data is too ugly, let’s not look at it for now,” said a comment with more than 9,000 upvotes on microblogging site Weibo, where a hashtag about the news garnered 100 million views.

A record 11.6 million college graduates were seeking jobs this year. They face bleak prospects as the Chinese economy lost momentum after the second quarter, when a post-pandemic rally faded.

Economy slows

Tuesday’s data also indicated another month of tepid growth in the world’s second largest economy.

Consumer spending, factory production and investment in fixed assets all slowed further in July from a year ago, according to the NBS.

Retail sales expanded 2.5% last month from a year ago, slowing from the 3.1% increase recorded in June. It was the weakest growth in consumption since December, when China scrapped its pandemic restrictions.

Industrial production also came in below expectations. It was up 3.7% in July from a year earlier, compared to growth of 4.4% in June.

Fixed-asset investment rose 3.4% in July, compared to the 3.8% growth recorded in June.

The economy is grappling with weak export demand from global markets and an ongoing property crisis.

“With financial troubles at developers such as Country Garden likely to weigh on the housing market in the near-term, there is a real risk of the economy slipping into a recession unless policy support is ramped up soon,” said analysts from Capital Economics in a research note on Tuesday.

US stocks fell Tuesday as concerns mounted on Wall Street about the health of China’s economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average index fell 361 points, or 1%. The S&P 500 slipped 1.2% and the Nasdaq Composite lost 1.1%.

Incremental efforts

Policymakers have taken some steps to support the economy, even as economists say much more needs to be done.

On Tuesday, the People’s Bank of China unexpectedly cut its medium term lending facility (MLF) by 15 basis points to 2.5%. It also reduced the seven-day reverse repo rate by 10 basis points, which now stands at 1.8%.

“From a macro perspective, today’s policy decisions are somewhat helpful,” said Robert Carnell, regional head of research for Asia-Pacific at ING Group.

But they’re not a game changer, he said.

Analysts from Capital Economics expect more rate cuts to come soon. However, the cuts are likely to be too small to revive credit demand, as policymakers have so far been slow to roll out meaningful fiscal support, they said.

“Unless officials act more forcefully soon, our expectation for a modest policy-driven” rebound later this year may be too optimistic, they added.

On Sunday, China’s cabinet issued 24 guidelines to attract foreign investment and address some of the thorniest issues for investors.

The measures include offering better tax treatment for overseas companies, making it easier for foreigners to obtain visas and loosening rules on transferring data overseas.

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