Middle class dream fades for China white collar workers

Wed Dec 15, 2010 12:27am EST
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By Royston Chan

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Shanghai native Wu Xiaodong has a solid job as a human resource supervisor in a technology company and earns around 4000 yuan ($600) a month. But he is still single at 28 and lives with his parents.

"At this age, things we would be looking at would be marriage and children," he said, adding that he is daunted by the costs of an apartment, a wedding, education for his future children and the price of medical care as his parents age.

A university degree has long been seen as a ticket away from poverty, but China's version of the "middle class dream" is fast fading as graduate job seekers are faced with the stark reality of high living costs, low wages and dim career prospects.

The competition for white collar jobs is heating up as companies in China's top-tier cities such as Shanghai look for talent among an ever-widening pool of more than 6 million graduate job seekers every year.

University education has been a key to China's aim to create a broad urban tier of middle class families with "well-off characteristics" nationwide. The country began expanding university enrollment in 1996 to meet growing personnel demands as China's economy boomed, leading to a surge of graduates.

But signs of economic trouble have put additional financial pressure on companies already struggling with the after effects of the global financial crisis, keeping wages tight.

China's inflation soared past forecasts to a 28-month high in November and showed signs of spreading beyond food prices, putting pressure on the government to tighten monetary policy.

A recent study by a top Chinese labor economist showed that China's university graduates on average earned only 300 yuan ($44) more than a blue collar migrant worker per month, setting off hot debate on the worth of a university education.   Continued...