Job seekers wait at a fair in the Hannan district of Wuhan, Hubei province, on Tuesday. It was the city's first offline job fair since the novel coronavirus outbreak. (LI ZIYUN/FOR CHINA DAILY)
China added 2.29 million urban jobs in the first quarter, when the novel coronavirus outbreak triggered widespread stay-at-home orders that slowed the movement of workers and depressed market demand, an employment official said Tuesday.
But that is about 950,000 fewer jobs than the same period last year, said Lu Aihong, spokesman of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.
He told a quarterly news conference held by the ministry in Beijing that the registered urban unemployment rate nationwide, based on the number of people who registered for benefits, was 3.66 percent by the end of March, whereas the urban jobless rate based on surveys was 5.9 percent.
The quarterly figures came as central authorities ordered strong policies to protect jobs and establish safety nets for most vulnerable groups.
Zhang Ying, head of the ministry's division for job promotion, said the new figures have underscored the "seriousness" of the employment conditions, but added that a string of measures have been put in place to cushion the epidemic's impact on the job market.
She said the ministry has helped over 10,000 central and local key enterprises recruit nearly 500,000 people to produce crucial medical supplies and daily necessities as part of efforts to reduce joblessness.
The ministry has also helped 5.9 million rural workers reach urban factories through a "point-to-point "transportation program to carry migrants back to jobs in the cities through chartered trains or buses to avoid infections during travel.
The program is part of a broader effort to help factories resume production as the outbreak abates domestically, and is considered a significant move to help eliminate rural poverty by the end of the year.
According to the ministry, about 23 million rural workers arrived at their jobs by April 10, accounting for 86 percent of the tally last year.
Moreover, hundreds of billions of yuan have been remitted or doled out to relieve economic pains felt by smaller businesses.
Zhang said the ministry exempted employers from 232 billion yuan ($32.8 billion) in social security fees by the end of March to reduce labor costs, and handed back another 38.8 billion yuan for the employers' portion of jobless benefits to 3.02 million businesses that didn't lay off workers. Nearly 10 billion yuan were given out in a separate move to encourage employers to hire unemployed people, she added.
Nie Mingjuan, who oversees pension funds at the ministry, said that 189 billion yuan of the fee exemptions, or 81.3 percent, went to medium and small businesses.