China's Jobless Rate Drops Below 4% for First Time Since 2002

  • Unemployment rate hasn’t fluctuated much in the past 15 years
  • China created 3.34 million new urban jobs in the first quarter

China’s official registered unemployment rate fell to a 14-year low of 3.97 percent in the first quarter, even as policy makers pledge to cut jobs in industries with excess capacity.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Securities released the data at a briefing Tuesday in Beijing. Another jobless rate, based on surveys in major cities to give it greater accuracy, fell below 5 percent in March, the National Bureau of Statistics said last week.

The labor market "continued a trend of stabilization and improvement," a ministry spokesman said at the briefing. Demand for workers in manufacturing increased faster than the labor demand growth across all industries, according to the spokesman.

While the jobless gauge is is known for barely changing with economic cycles, and statistics officials are working on a newer and more accurate survey-based version, the decline in unemployment coincides with economic growth posting the first back-to-back quarterly acceleration in two years.

Read More: China Workers Get Smaller Pay Gains Even Amid Ample Openings

China created 3.34 million jobs in the first quarter, on pace to exceed the government’s 11 million target for this year.

Still, the employment situation this year remains difficult. There’s a long-term shortage of skilled workers in some newer, upgraded sectors, while aged, low-skilled workers and fresh college graduates find it hard to nail jobs, according to the ministry.

The urban registered unemployment rate remained between 4 percent and 4.3 percent from the end of 2002 through the end of 2016, and it was unchanged at 4.1 percent from 2010 to 2013, even as growth slowed during the same period.

— With assistance by Jeff Kearns

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