What group of people often settle into crowded neighborhoods, sometimes living in underground basements, working long grueling hours for wages that low-paid factory workers would turn their nose up at? Are you thinking of the homeless? Try again – it’s university graduates.
Never mind all the talk about China’s exponential economic growth that the government and media like to banter about, the job market still has not been strong enough to absorb all the new graduates that universities are pumping out. This year’s university graduates count alone was above six million and an increasing number of them are graduating from second and third tier institutions as more universities are set up in provinces around the country – those conferred degrees are rendered even less valuable by employers.
Chinese sociologists have come up with a new term for educated young people who move in search of work…: the ant tribe. It is a reference to their immense numbers; at least 100,000 in Beijing alone; …and ‘Like ants, they gather in colonies, sometimes underground in basements, and work long and hard,’ said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.”
It’s a harsh reality for graduates, many who went in presuming that a higher education would guarantee them better financial prospects. It’s not uncommon to see accounting, finance, and computer programming degree holders working for the same or sometimes even lesser amount as a manual laborer. On top of that, they have to explain to parents–ones that scraped together funds to send their child to college–why it hasn’t been smooth sailing after graduation. And before you think that any more insult to injury could be added, the migrant class of blue collar factory workers are ironically the ones now high demand.
The NY Times explains:
…[S]pot labor shortages and tighter government oversight [are] driving up blue-collar wages. Between 2003 and 2009, the average starting salary for migrant laborers grew by nearly 80 percent; during the same period, starting pay for college graduates stayed the same, although their wages actually decreased if inflation is taken into account.
The graduates that hail from outer provinces with anything but a C9 degree are the most disadvantaged. Employers in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen look unkindly upon outsiders; yet the educated young and ambitious keep on coming in a steady stream to fulfill their dreams in a “glitzy” cities, mostly unaware of the true depth of the challenges that await them.