Peking untertreibt kräftig bei der offiziellen Darstellung des Problems der Arbeitslosigkeit in China, schreibt der Economist: “WE ARE a socialist country,” China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said to loud applause last weekend at a conference on the re-employment of laid-off workers. “If we don't solve the employment problem, the lives of the masses will not improve.” Mr Wen has declared unemployment to be a top priority for his administration. Most people agree that urban unemployment is growing, but a statistical quagmire of the government's making renders it difficult to assess how bad the problem really is. Mr Wen's concerns about the problem appear to indicate that it is much worse than official figures suggest. Last year the government put the urban unemployment rate at 4.3%, which in most other countries would be regarded as close to full employment (see chart). The official target this year is to keep it under 4.7%. Officials do not seem worried about achieving this. But everyone knows the figure has little to do with reality. It was only ten years ago that Chinese officials plucked up the courage to start using the word “unemployment”—a phenomenon previously regarded by the Communist Party as the preserve of exploitative capitalist countries. And none too soon. Over the past ten years, bloated state-owned enterprises and “collectives” (most of them in effect also state-owned) have shed much of their excess labour. Many have been simply closed. Between 1998 and 2002, such closures resulted in job losses for a staggering 24m workers, or about 10% of the urban labour force, by government reckoning.


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