China’s young jobseekers struggle despite economic recovery

This photo taken on July 25, 2020 shows a job seeker (R) speaking with a recruiter of a company during a career fair in Zhengzhou, China's Henan province. China's economy may have rebounded sharply after a historic contraction from the coronavirus outbreak, but jobseekers face a less rosy situation -- with businesses still reeling and household savings on the rise. (AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2020

China’s young jobseekers struggle despite economic recovery

  • The world’s second-largest economy may have rebounded sharply from a historic virus-induced contraction

ZHENGZHOU: Biology student Ma Jingjing wandered the hall of a job fair in central China among other young Chinese hoping to find work in an economy crushed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ma, 26, is one of almost nine million people graduating and entering the job market this year at a time of great uncertainty, an issue that has the ruling Communist Party worried to the point that President Xi Jinping has made it a priority.
The world’s second-largest economy may have rebounded sharply from a historic virus-induced contraction, but its young graduate jobless rate in June was more than three times that for urban unemployment.
Ma was among hundreds of young faces streaming in and out of the job fair on a recent weekend in Zhengzhou, where employers in industries ranging from real estate to manufacturing were recruiting.
Like many others, the aspiring teacher is “at a loss” and wondering if she should settle for any job or hold off work for further education.
“I have applied to seven or eight private schools, but only one has called me back for an interview,” she told AFP at the fair.
“I’ve studied for so many years and don’t want my family to pay for further training,” she said.
“I’m especially worried about my finances.”
Aware of the risk that mass unemployment can spark political unrest — jeopardizing the party’s pledge of prosperity in return for unquestioned political power — the government has been making efforts to boost graduate employment via state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
But poorer opportunities this year are pushing some into further studies, less ideal jobs or other options.

Although China’s economy appeared to make a strong comeback in the second quarter — growing 3.2 percent on-year — analysts caution the rebound may be overestimated, with a gap re-emerging between national figures and higher-frequency data.
Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics told AFP there is no doubt China is recovering, but the magnitude would determine if growth is “strong enough to re-absorb some of the labor market problems” that emerged earlier this year, such as layoffs.
A gap in growth of a few percentage points could lead to a difference of millions of jobs created, he added.
Although China’s urban unemployment rate slipped to 5.7 percent in June, 19.3 percent of new graduates remained jobless, UOB economists said in a report, adding the labor market “continued to face challenges.”
Top-level economic data has not necessarily meant better hiring on the ground.
A 27-year-old surnamed Kang, who graduated in 2017, is back in the market after his contract in the communications industry in Beijing ended.
He decided to return to Zhengzhou, but has only received around five callbacks after sending more than 30 resumes to firms — and is still looking for a job.
“The virus outbreak has limited travel and a lot of job fairs have been postponed or canceled,” he said. “I’m extremely anxious.”
Lu Yifan, 25, said the pandemic had caused many overseas Chinese students like him to return home sooner than planned — adding to the flood of jobseekers.
And Guangdong graduate Zhao Jingying, 22, told AFP: “For us (this year), getting a single job offer is a feat.”
Another, Beijing-based Huo Ruixi, 23, left university in July but is planning a second round of further education after an unsuccessful five-month job search.

The crisis is also causing problems for employers.
Yang Changwei, manager at Deyou Real Estate, told AFP at the Zhengzhou fair it was getting harder to hire sales staff based on commission.
“It feels like jobseekers’ mindsets have shifted,” he said.
“In sales, you may or may not make deals but with other jobs there can be more stability in income. Because of the epidemic, financial pressures are larger as well.”
Officials are ramping up efforts to boost graduate employment, and Premier Li Keqiang announced over nine million new roles will be created this year.
A State Council guideline in March said smaller firms that recruit graduates with contracts longer than a year will be given a subsidy, while SOEs will “continuously expand” the scale of graduate-hiring this year and next.
Henan authorities, for one, said at least half the recruitment positions at SOEs within the province should be reserved for this year’s graduates, while Nanjing city in Jiangsu province set aside one billion yuan ($143 million) to provide 100,000 internships for struggling graduates, Xinhua news agency reported.


Economic meltdown threatens Europe’s war on plastic waste

Plastic recycling at the Extruplas plant in Portugal. Europe produces 26 million tons of plastic waste each year. (Reuters)
Updated 08 August 2020

Economic meltdown threatens Europe’s war on plastic waste

  • Lower oil prices mean lower virgin plastic prices — and that spells trouble for the recycling industry

OUREM, Portugal: Giving a new life to plastic trash gets Carlos Bento out of bed every morning. But the coronavirus pandemic has seen revenues drop up to 40 percent at Micronipol, the large recycling facility he runs in central Portugal, and it faces an uncertain future.

Micronipol produces recycled polyethylene, the base for plastic bags and bottles. The product is piling up at its warehouses as clients, facing their own economic struggles, shelve their recycling goals. They are opting for cheaper alternatives: non-recycled plastics made from hydrocarbons.
As lockdowns were put in place worldwide, a drop in demand for oil pushed prices to historic lows, making virgin plastics — already becoming cheaper than the recycled equivalent — even more affordable.
“If we are no longer competitive and if we lose cash we have two options: Either someone has to subsidise us so we can keep working or we have to shut down,” said Bento, as he stood near a pile of colorful recycled plastic bales.
Lower virgin plastic prices could spell disaster for the future of European recyclers like Micronipol.
In Europe, virgin polyethylene terephthalate (PET) was over 7 percent, or €60 ($71) per ton, cheaper than the recycled equivalent last month, data from S&P Global Platts showed.
Industry group Plastic Recyclers Europe said firms in most EU member states have signalled their recycling facilities have reduced their operations or closed their lines for at least a few months.
“Without well-functioning and profitable plastics recycling there is no alternative, no environmentally sound option for plastic waste management,” said Antonino Furfari, the group’s managing director. “This waste will be incinerated or dumped.”
Piotr Barczak, senior policy officer for waste at the European Environment Bureau, called for a tax on all virgin plastics to eliminate the price gap.
The impact of the pandemic on recyclers is especially concerning at a time when consumption of plastics is expected to double to 600 million tons per year in the coming two decades, according to a report by Zero Waste Europe NGO. And as countries struggle to cope with the economic impact of the health crisis, fears abound that environmental policies are being left behind.

HIGHLIGHTS

● Virgin plastic cheaper than recycled alternative.
● European plastic recyclers struggling to stay afloat.
● Taxing virgin plastic could help industry survive.

EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius told Reuters in a written interview that while the Commission had received relatively few requests for extensions or exemptions from EU environmental rules due to the pandemic, the crisis had a “significant impact” on countries’ administrative capacities.
The EU is to ban a range of single-use plastic items by 2021, a huge ambition which could now be under threat as more and more consumers and restaurants become more dependent on disposable plastic products due to contagion fears.
Portugal’s Environment Secretary of State Ines dos Santos Costa said her government’s ambition to cut disposable plastic products “still stands,” but the pandemic has transformed models of production and consumption worldwide.
Not far from Portugal’s capital Lisbon, recycling sorting facility Amarsul has raised concerns about the vast amounts of plastic gloves and masks it has been receiving.
“If the habit of using disposables continues, we may take a step back we will have to fix later,” said CEO Sandra Silva, adding that a recycling-based economic model “cannot stop because there is a pandemic.”
Europe generates 26 million tons of plastic waste annually, but less than 30 percent of that is collected for recycling. Experts say existing targets to improve plastic recycling could be in danger of not being met.
Sandra Castro, head of Extruplas firm that makes wooden-like outdoor furniture from plastics it recycles, is hoping the current situation is no more than a temporary bump in the road.
“We need the industry to be able to provide a solution to the waste we produce,” Castro said.
But for Sirpa Pietikainen, Finnish member of the European Parliament, the only way to tackle plastic pollution, which some scientists say is fueling climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, is to produce less waste.
“If you thought the coronavirus crisis was bad for the economy, climate change will be 100 times worse — and then you will not only talk about losing GDP points, you will talk about access to medication, water and food,” she said.
“We really need to act now.”