Chinese Labor Trends – Redux

The ever-helpful noted an article in the NYT on the problem of the aging Chinese labor force. The article was by Howard French, and the piece seemed very familiar to me. In fact, hadn’t French already written an article on this topic? And, hadn’t I already blogged about it?

In point of fact, yes, French has written two stories. Today‘s headline:

China Scrambles for Stability as Its Workers Age

The headline from June 30, 2006:

As China Ages, a Shortage of Cheap Labor Looms

Although blogspot is blocked, checking the blog is still relatively easy as blogger let’s me seen previous posts in case I want to edit them. I found that I had begun to draft a post on French’s 2006 piece but never posted it. Here’s what I wrote then:

The New York Times recently came out with a front page (or at least prominently placed on the webpage) story regarding the labor shortage in China:

As China Ages, a Shortage of Cheap Labor Looms

China Economic Weekly has a report that is adequately translated and summed up in a story with the following headline:

China Faces Employment Crisis; Recent Graduates, Rural Migrants Among Hardest Hit

How can we reconcile these two stories?

As it happens, I’m still not sure how to reconcile them. The short version of my view is that Chinese coastal factories are reluctant to increase wages and that this is the source of ‘labor shortages’ in the factories. At the same time, college graduates are finding that jobs are not automatically given out with diplomas and have to be willing to accept lower-paying or perhaps even ‘non-white-collar’ work. In 20 years, as the current generation reaches the mandatory retirement age, more positions will open for current college graduates. One possible hiccup here is that colleges are growing at an insanely fast pace, and there will be ever more graduates in future years.

n.b. On his own site, French gives the International Herald Tribune’s title for the article: Pension Crisis Looms for China.

Obviously, I agree with French that these are incredibly important issues. Take for instance this image that accompanied today’s story:

By 2050, there will be more retirees in China than people in the United States. The Chinese economy’s taking off has created sticky issues of migration, ‘labor shortages,’ employment shortages for college graduates, pension crises, and bubbles in stock and real estate markets. Here’s a cartoon that I found yesterday. Everyone is reaching for “employment” and have their resumes and diplomas out.

I repeatedly blog about these issues, so I suppose I understand his impulse to write multiple stories on the same topic.

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