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The Big Take

China’s Gen Z Is Dejected, Underemployed and Slowing the Economy

Younger workers’ ambitions and salary expectations are diminishing in the wake of Covid and the tech crackdown.

University graduates at a job fair in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, on June 17.

University graduates at a job fair in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, on June 17.

Photographer: VCG/Getty Images

The most educated generation in China’s history was supposed to blaze a trail towards a more innovative and technologically advanced economy. Instead, about 15 million young people are estimated to be jobless, and many are lowering their ambitions. 

A perfect storm of factors has propelled unemployment among 16- to 24-year-old urbanites to a record 19.3%, more than twice the comparable rate in the US. The government’s hardline coronavirus strategy has led to layoffs, while its regulatory crackdown on real estate and education companies has hit the private sector. At the same time, a record number of college and vocational school graduates—some 12 million—are entering the job market this summer. This highly educated cohort has intensified a mismatch between available roles and jobseekers’ expectations.