Unemployment fears stalk once-roaring China

Tue Nov 4, 2008 7:32pm EST
 
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By Simon Rabinovitch

BEIJING (Reuters) - Short of food and running low on cash, a group of men huddled under a bridge in Beijing and waited for someone, anyone to come by and offer them work, any work.

The global economic slowdown is taking a toll on China and threatens to swell its ranks of the unemployed, undoing impressive income gains made in recent years and undermining the 'harmonious society' that the government prizes above all else.

Hit especially hard are the rural migrants who have long streamed into cities to build office towers, clean streets and staff factories.

Under the bridge in southwest Beijing, an area where construction managers would hire crews in better times, Ren, a day laborer in his 40s, contemplated giving up and returning to his patch of farmland in Hebei province.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it. Normally I can get a job in a few days, but I've been out here a month already," he said.

Whether Ren goes back or not, he and an estimated 130 million rural migrants like him are not legally registered as living in the cities where they work and so do not show up in official employment statistics.

But evidence is mounting that their prospects have turned bleak in the space of just a few months. The government, which bases its quest for social stability on economic strength, has responded with tax breaks, interest rate cuts, big spending projects and pledges to do more.

The suddenness with which China's economy has lost momentum is Beijing's immediate concern. Annual growth in the third quarter sank to 9 percent, well down from its scorching 11.9 percent pace in all of last year and putting the country on track for its first single-digit expansion since 2002.   Continued...

 
<p>Migrant workers sit in their sleeping bags with their belongings as they wait for potential employers to arrive at an unofficial labour market located under a bridge in central Beijing October 30, 2008. The global economic slowdown, contrary to some predicitions, is taking its toll on China and threatens to swell its ranks of the unemployed, especially the rural migrant workers who have long streamed into cities to build office towers, clean streets and staff factories. Picture taken October 30, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray</p>