Tuesday, May 28, 2024

College Graduates in China Work Two Jobs to Make a Living

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Life as a college graduate has not turned out as expected for Liu Chang, who graduated from Hebei University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in acupuncture and massage.

He has been working since 2022 in the administrative staff of a community hospital in Shijiazhuang, Hebei. Like many recent graduates in China, he has found that his salary is not enough to make ends meet. So, in September, he started a street stall to boost his income.

“After getting off work at 5 p.m. on December 18, I rode a food bike to the night market,” he told VOA in recounting a typical day in his life as a street vendor.

“There were already many stall owners. The weather has been cold recently, and not many people come out as they did in the summer. When the business is good, I go out every night and make four to five thousand yuan a month, which is the same as my monthly salary” from the hospital, Liu said.

He said he was born in 1997 to a poor rural family. With his younger brother studying for a postgraduate degree in environmental science at Hebei University of Science and Technology, and because the family could afford to support the education of only one son, Liu’s parents have not given him a penny since college. Sometimes he didn’t even have enough money to see a doctor when he was sick.

High unemployment rate for young adults

Liu’s story is not unique. The unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds in China reached a record high of 21.3% in June, according to official data, raising concerns about what tens of millions of college students each year will do after graduation.

Liu said that with the scarcity of white-collar jobs, more and more college graduates are forced to turn to the informal sector. Street vending has attracted many people due to the increasing economic uncertainty.

“Many of my classmates are doing this. They can’t afford to buy a property after college, so they rent a place. And they never have enough money to spend,” Liu said.

“In the first two years after graduation, I interviewed with 18 companies,” he said. “On one hand, the salary was too low, and on the other hand, the jobs were not related to my major.

“I work for survival. After studying for a long time, I don’t get to practice anything I learned. Including what I am doing now, nothing has to do with what I studied,” he said.

Wang Haisheng, from Meizhou City, Guangdong province, graduated from Luoyang University of Science and Technology in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical design, manufacture and automation. After graduation, he worked in sales for Luoyang Northern Glass Technology for over a year.

However, due to the pandemic and his physical condition, he had to move back to his hometown, where he worked in the engineering department of a food factory and made 4,000 yuan ($560) a month.

“I was assigned to the idlest position, patrolling and watching wind turbines every day,” Wang said. Less than a year later, he was let go due to changes in management.

He said college graduates with the same degree as his work on the assembly line, and their wages are less than 4,000 yuan. They work 10 to 12 hours a day on average but don’t receive insurance and housing funds available to many other Chinese workers.

Because the college graduates are hired as contractors, Wang said, “they only make 70% of what regular employees make. More than half of the workers there are contractors because of the low cost.”

‘Huge gap between expectations and reality’

Left jobless by the food factory, Wang tried to generate some income by selling plants online but failed. In July, he started running a street stall because he couldn’t afford to live without an income.

“My father works at a construction site, and my two sisters are married and have children, and no one can help me,” Wang said.

Like him, he said, many college graduates in China have had to make a difficult adjustment in their expectations.

“The work is meaningless, and the process is very painful,” he said.

“There is a huge gap between expectations and reality,” he said. “When we were little, we were taught to be the masters of the world. But in the end, we are just ordinary members of society who cannot even find a job where we can apply what we have learned.”

Li Ping, a 2012 graduate of Beijing Normal University, said that since 2017, he has been selling shoes and bags at a stall in the Xizhimen area in Beijing, even when he had a day job. Since losing his full-time job, street vending is his only source of income.

Li, who majored in information management and information systems, said financial difficulties are the main issue for college-graduate street vendors. Although the government claims to be solving this problem, there is no actual improvement, he said.

“This is just how the current workplace environment is, and the only way is to adapt to the reality,” Li said.

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