The active workforce in China has depleted by over 41 million in the past three years, mostly because of the pandemic’s toll on the economy and a decline in the working age population, as reported by news agency Bloomberg.
Citing China’s statistics bureau Bloomberg reported some 733.5 million Chinese people were employed in 2022. That’s down from 774.7 million in 2019. The data reflects a rapid rise in the number of people retiring, likely raising pressure on Beijing to accelerate unpopular plans to raise official retirement ages.
The drop in the number of working people reflects factors such as higher youth unemployment due to the pandemic as well as a shrinking number of people in the “classic age group of the working-age population,” said Stuart Gietel-Basten, a demographer at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Chinese aged between 16 and 59 has been gradually going down since 2012. Over the past three years, the number in that group dropped 38 million to 857.6 million — a much more rapid fall than in previous years.
Demographic change was the “driving factor” in 2022’s employment drop, said Lu Feng, a labour economist at Peking University, as the population reaching the age of 60, a common retirement age in China, “increased dramatically”.
China’s economic growth is expected to accelerate this year due to the end of coronavirus restrictions and a sharp drop in infections.
As a result, the number of employed people in China “could rise this year as people return to the work force,” said Larry Hu, China economist at Macquarie Securities Ltd, adding that “it will remain on the structural downtrend due to the aging population.”
China’s retirement age has remained unchanged for more than four decades at 60 for men and 55 for female white-collar workers, even as life-expectancy has risen.
The ruling Communist Party has listed retirement age reform among its key economic tasks for the year. More detail on reform plans may be provided this month, when the annual government work report is presented at the National People’s Congress — an annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp parliament.
China’s workers are becoming more productive. Labour productivity, defined as gross domestic product produced per worker, increased by 4.2 per cent in 2022, the statistics bureau said. That has slowed, though, from rates of around 6 per cent per year reported in the 2010s.