China's baby-boom babies grow up and hit job market

China must find jobs for 20 million young people a year. That's how many reach working age each year, even though population growth in this country of nearly 1 billion people has been reduced in the past few years to 11 million per year.

These young people were born during the baby boom of the 1960s, when orthodox population experts like Ma Yinchu were scorned and the Chinese claimed that Malthusianism did not apply to them. The country is paying dearly for what is now seen as one of a string of "leftist" errors of the past.

Even with the "one-child-per-couple movement," population is not expected to stabilize -- at around 1.2 billion -- until the end of this century. The statistics are so huge they seem almost meaningless. This correspondent recently visited a Peking neighborhood committee to see what the struggle to provide jobs means at the community level.

Tianqiao is a community of 13,000 households and 53,000 people, occupying two square kilometers of urban Peking in the area immediately west of the soaring, splendid Temple of Heaven. Gloomy-Soviet-style office buildings line the main streets, but behind them a maze of alleys is chock-a-block with gray-walled, one-story, tiled dwellings.

In these houses, so constructed as to face onto an inner courtyard while presenting a forbidding exterior to the outsider, live the bulk of Peking's citizens, except for the few who have been allocated modern high-rise apartments that are beginning to change the city's skyline.

Tianqiao is a lively area, with street markets, a theater, a famous department store, and innumerable stalls dispensing the various dumplings -- steamed, fried, or boiled -- that Peking citizens love. At night, under lampposts, you see young people playing cards, and sometimes a small crowd listening intently to an itinerant storyteller.

But talk to Mr. Liu or Mrs. Ho of the Tianqiao neighborhood committee and you begin to get some idea of the intensive yearly search to find the jobs that will keep the young people off the streets and maintain social stability. "The average size of a Tianqiao household is 4.5," said Mr. Liu. "That is, four to five persons, of whom two work and the others are children or retired. We probably have about 20,000 people employed altogether. That is not a high figure, but you must remember many of our citizens are children or students.

"As the neighborhood committee, we are responsible for finding jobs for anyone who is registered as a resident of our area.Last year, for example, we had to take care of 3,046 young people waiting for employment.

"Of these, 1,366 were recruited by various state enterprises in the city in the normal way. Another 141 took over from retired parents. [In most enterprises, if an employee retires, his son or daughter may succeed him.] Then 113 were absorbed by collective enterprises and by the labor service cooperative [a training organization]; 27 joined the army, including three girls. Another 49 went to university."

Employees of central government organs benefit from factories run by these organs specifically to provide jobs for their children. A total of 351 were taken care of in this way.

"That left 830 people who had to be found temporary jobs by us, plus another 169 who found no jobs at all. When I say temporary jobs, I mean extra help in hospitals, or collecting tickets and keeping order at sports events, or stoking boilers for residential use in winter.

"Of the totally unemployed, 106 are preparing university entrance exams, 43 are handicapped or sick, and 20 are just staying at home -- we found them jobs but they didn't like them.

"And this year? Well, we still have to take care of the 830 for whom we found temporary jobs last year, plus the 169 for whom we found no jobs at all.

"Then another 200 will be coming back to Peking after several years in the countryside. That means 1,199 people altogether, of whom 40 belong to families with two people waiting for jobs. We must give priority to them, along with 126 who come from families with an average monthly income of less than 20 yuan [$13] per head. The sick and handicapped will be placed in crafts factories we are establishing.

"We have also established and are expanding neighborhood factories we run ourselves -- leather processing, printing and copying, clothesmaking, caps, calendars, various handicrafts, mufflers for cars, food shops, small department stores, pharmacies, a car-parts shop, and services such as mending, washing, and repairing. We hope to take care of 600 people in this way.

"I think it's going to take us 15 to 20 years before we can manage to get ourselves out of the job-finding business."

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