For China’s unemployed youth, shelters are the ideal place | ET REALITY


In a youth hostel in central Shanghai, amid the dull roar of a hair dryer, the screech of a blender and the lingering aroma of spicy instant noodles, Ethan Yi, 23, reflected on the state of the world.

“Why can’t I, a college graduate, find a job?” Mr. Yi lamented as he sat in the hostel common room after a day of fruitless interviews. “Why do only jobs that pay only $400 or $500 a month want me? “Sometimes I wonder, how can it be so difficult?”

That’s the question being asked in hostels across China. As unemployment among Chinese youth has reached record levels, hostels have become refuges for young people trying their luck in major cities, and who need a place to rest between back-to-back interviews, to strategize for their next meeting. networking or to say goodbye to a meeting. another resume. They have become centers of concentration for people’s anxiety, hopes, despair and ambitions, all crammed into bunk beds that cost a few dollars a night.

At Together Hostel, where Mr. Yi was staying, newcomers browsed online job postings surrounded by wall maps highlighting the best places to eat soup dumplings in Shanghai. Posters advertising local comedy shows were largely ignored by recent graduates who called their parents for advice or comfort.

When asked what he had been doing at the hostel, Mr. Yi, who was sitting with his arms crossed by the smoothie bar, replied: “Thinking about life.”

Many of the guests arrive with high hopes. Mr. Yi, visiting Shanghai for the first time from his home in the central province of Hunan, was delighted to see many foreigners in the city, as he wanted to work in international trade or translation. He arrived on a Saturday and with several interviews scheduled for the week, he spent the weekend sightseeing. At night, he returned to the tidy room and private bathroom he shared with three other people for about $13 a night.

But by the following Monday night it had already deflated. An interview that morning, at a startup, ended within a few minutes. Several hours later, he received a rejection notice from another company with which he had interviewed online before arriving. He wanted a salary of at least $950 a month, slightly above the average in Shanghai, but the likelihood seemed remote.

“I feel pretty lost right now,” Yi said, as guests with towels wrapped around their wet hair walked through the lobby. “My dad just told me, he’s fine, he’s still looking. But honestly, you still have to think about the money problem: I don’t want to waste too much. So my time is limited.”

The hostels are necessary in part because of the hyper-competitive nature of China’s white-collar labor market. The most desirable opportunities are still concentrated in a few megacities like Shanghai or Shenzhen, even as the number of universities and college graduates across the country has skyrocketed. The glut of graduates means that candidates unwilling to travel for interviews (and pay their own way) can easily be fired.

As the Chinese economy slows, competition has become even tougher. Unemployment among 16- to 24-year-olds in urban areas rose to a record 21.3 percent in June, before the government stopped publishing the data. Even some young people who have found employment earn so little that they cannot afford a deposit on a long-term lease, or are afraid to sign one for fear of being suddenly laid off. That was the case with Mr. Yi’s top bunkmate.

The competition also weighed heavily on Zhi Yanran, who had traveled to the hostel the day before from her home in Jiangxi province. Ms. Zhi had conducted three interviews that day and two more the next day, for positions in human resources; She had also continued to submit new applications in the meantime.

Still, Ms. Zhi said she felt like she was lagging behind her graduate school classmates, who had started applying for jobs a long time ago. She had only started in September, after “lying around” (Chinese slang for lazing around) for “a long time,” she said.

How long exactly? About two months, since I graduated in June. But that was a long time, Ms. Zhi insisted. “It’s so hard to find a job now!”

Ms. Zhi was satisfied with her five-person room at the hostel, for which she paid less than $11 a night, but she had one minor complaint: The hostel was not as lively as she expected. Ms. Zhi was hoping to make friends, but apparently all the other guests who weren’t in her rooms were sitting quietly, hunched over their phones or computers at individual workstations.

“It’s like a college dormitory mixed with a library,” Ms. Zhi said, finishing a quiet takeout dinner in a dimly lit cubicle of her own.

Although recent graduates have one of the highest unemployment rates, others have struggled as well. In the lobby around 9 p.m., as food delivery drivers came and went shouting orders, Kris Zhang, 30, lay on a couch trying to take a nap.

Mr. Zhang had worked in the city of Hangzhou as a well-paid computer programmer at Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, until he was laid off earlier this year. He wanted to stay in Hangzhou, where he had already bought a house and an Audi, but he couldn’t find a new job there that paid enough to cover his more than $27,000 annually in mortgage and car loans.

So the previous week he had reluctantly accepted an offer in Shanghai, while continuing to look for positions in Hangzhou. She lived in the hostel hoping that her stay in Shanghai would be brief. She displayed the meager contents of a silver hard-sided suitcase (a few tangled shirts and shorts, taking up barely a quarter of the space) as if manifesting that brief timeline.

Still, Zhang acknowledged that reality might be more difficult. “Before you could search with your eyes closed and receive dozens of offers a year,” she said. “The situation now is much worse.”

Around 10 p.m., Yang Han plopped down on a couch in the common room, sweaty from a basketball game. Mr. Yang, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in advertising in June, had traveled from his home in central China’s Henan province for two interviews. Shanghai was the center of China’s advertising industry, he said, and he was determined to find work there.

He had been anxious when he arrived several days earlier. But the interviews were over and there was nothing he could do but wait. (Sort of: he had been thinking about sending a follow-up letter to a recruiter to state his case again.)

Yang settled into her seat and unwrapped a convenience store sandwich and a separate chicken breast, both cheap and nutritious, she noted. In the worst case, he said, he would be rejected, take the train back to Henan, submit more resumes and wait until a next round of interviews in Shanghai. And he repeated until he found work.

Of course, he added, “I hope I don’t have to travel so much.”

Li you contributed to the research.

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