Sat, July 13

Observation of Employment of China’s Aging Population in 2023

The world is getting older, as indicated in a recent report released by the Central University of Finance and Economics. According to the China Human Capital Report 2023, the average age of the national labor force has increased from 32.25 in 1985 to 39.42 in 2021. The provinces with the highest average ages are Heilongjiang at 41.17 years, Liaoning at 40.76 years, and Jilin at 40.57 years. Additionally, the total labor force average age in Chongqing and Zhejiang exceeds 40 years. The five provinces with the lowest average ages are Hainan, Xinjiang, Guangdong, Guizhou, and Tibet.

Upon reviewing the report, it is noted that the definition of labor force does not include students, and it encompasses females aged 16-54 and males aged 16-59. It is not surprising that Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning rank among the top three, as the outflow of young and middle-aged population from the three northeastern provinces has been a longstanding issue. However, some of the provinces that receive this population influx do not fare well in terms of labor force age. For instance, Zhejiang ranks fifth with an average age of 40.11, Jiangsu ranks ninth at 39.6, and Shanghai ranks twelfth. On the contrary, Guangdong has a relatively young labor force with an average age of only 37.72 years.

There is a saying that the Yangtze River Delta is ten years older than the Pearl River Delta, and it is not without reason. The aging population in the Yangtze River Delta region is very serious, with over 20% of the population aged 60 and above. Nantong ranks first nationwide in this aspect, with astonishingly 38.91% of the population in Xudong County being 60 years old or above. Even in Chongqing, which has the fourth oldest labor force age in the country, the proportion of people aged 60 and above in the seventh national census is as high as 10%, ranking second nationwide. Looking at the average age of the labor force in Chongqing, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, it is either due to being former old industrial bases with many retirees and youth outflow, similar to the situation in Northeast China and Chongqing, or due to strict implementation of the one-child policy in the past, resulting in a low birth rate and a good economic foundation suitable for retirement. Nantong has the highest proportion of centenarians in the province at 22%, making it a veritable longevity town. However, when you look at the five youngest cities in the country, four of them are in the Pearl River Delta, with cities like Shenzhen and Dongguan having less than 6% of the population aged 60 and above, making them the two youngest cities in the country. Foshan and Guangzhou also have only around 10% of the population aged 60 and above.

Without a doubt, the belief that more children bring more blessings is deeply ingrained in the bones of the people of Guangdong. Moreover, they are not exclusive and have a high level of tolerance. There are plenty of opportunities to make money as well as opportunities for manual labor. Apart from Guangdong, let’s take a look at Guizhou and Guiyang, which have the second youngest labor force in terms of age. With a population aging rate of less than 14%, my hometown Zhengzhou is also worth mentioning. In the past two years, Zhengzhou’s reputation has been mixed, but it stands out as the only northern city among the eight cities with an aging rate below 10%. It combines the labor force of a populous northern province. When we compare the data from the seventh national census with this ranking of labor force age, overall, it seems reliable. However, it’s unsettling to think about what this means. Even the average age of the young labor force in Guangdong is approaching 38 years old. In the future, what will happen to regions like the three northeastern provinces, where there are many retirees, a high number of only children, and a significant outflow of young people? It’s both eerie and frustrating that while the average age of workers is increasing, companies continue to discriminate against older workers. There is a saying that goes, “After the age of 40, looking for a job is to bring shame upon oneself.”

In a previous article discussing employment, someone in the comments mentioned that after working as a programmer for 10 years and losing most of their hair, they started delivering goods on a three-wheeled vehicle at the age of 40. They ended up building muscles and joked that while they may have become bald, they also became stronger. When looking for a job at 40 without a specific skill set or a strong resume from a reputable company, one might find themselves limited to jobs like security, cleaning, insurance, or even delivery services. It’s a tough reality to face when entering the competitive job market without much experience or qualifications.

Recently, I saw a post on social media looking to hire two warehouse managers, specifying that candidates must be under 40 years old. The job involved organizing, moving, unloading, and sorting goods. Similarly, a food company was hiring male general workers for two shifts, including night shifts, also specifying that candidates must be under 40 years old. Additionally, there was a post about a property management company looking for security guards with a monthly salary of 3000 RMB. The requirements included being under 40 years old, having a balanced body weight and height, and preferably being a military veteran.

It’s a common saying in the military that as long as you are willing to endure hardship, there will always be hardships to endure.

This is not really a big deal, but more of a situation where one has to endure hardship without actually experiencing any. People over 40 are being criticized for not having choices, but do young people with much more experience and education than middle-aged individuals have more options? Not necessarily. The hiring trends of major companies can be seen as a barometer of the job market for young people. According to the 2023 Talent Migration Report released by Maimai, the talent supply-demand ratio has increased from 0.32 in 2021 to 2.04 in 2023. This means that on average, two people are competing for one position. Even in the industries with the lowest supply-demand ratios, such as new energy vehicles, artificial intelligence, and new financial technology, there are still more than 1.7 people competing for a job opportunity. The job search period for job seekers is getting longer, with the proportion of finding a new job within a month dropping from 47.01% during the spring recruitment period to 29.63%. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of the workforce did not change jobs in 2023. Interestingly, in the past year, the main sources of new employees and the destinations of old employees for the top five companies – Meituan, Alibaba, Xiaohongshu, Tencent, and Baidu – all pointed to ByteDance. ByteDance has become a behemoth in the industry.

The middle-aged people we were talking about earlier, when the curse of 40 years old strikes, can only seek a living in physically demanding, repetitive, and low-skilled jobs that they used to look down upon. Meanwhile, young people are trapped in the siege of job hunting, where high difficulty becomes low difficulty. They want to shed their long robes, feeling unwillingness in their hearts. Was studying all in vain? If they want a somewhat decent income, they have to compete in the ever-increasing red sea of supply and demand. It seems like there are many choices, but in reality, there is no choice at all. The result is that regardless of age, everyone is getting older and more tired. How tired? One number can give you an idea. In November, the average weekly working hours for employees in the country was 48.9 hours, an increase of 0.2 hours from the previous month, marking a new high since this statistical measure was introduced in 2018. In April of this year, this record was just broken with an average of 48.8 hours worked in half a month. Surprising, isn’t it? This record only lasted for half a year, as November set a new high. Well, seeing this number, I finally have a statistic that is not lagging behind. The two major representatives of the East Asian economic miracle, South Korea, had an average weekly working time of 43.22 hours last year, while Singapore had 44.3 hours.

The length of working hours has reached a new high, and theoretically, the economy should be booming with such intensity. However, on the other hand, looking at indicators such as PPI, CPI, zero-interest household loans, and corporate current deposits, the indicators we discuss every day seem a bit difficult to break through. Despite our efforts, there seems to be no effect. This can only indicate one fact: the continuous increase in working hours has led to a decrease in business profit margins. By using so-called cost reduction and efficiency improvement methods, greater workloads have been imposed on employees. As a result, work has become both inefficient and prolonged, and workers have become tired and aged. What can be done? When it comes to combating the aging workforce, we can look at experiences from abroad. In 1967, the United States enacted the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits companies with 20 or more employees from discriminating against employees over the age of 40 in hiring, firing, promotions, training, wages, and benefits. In the 2000 amendment, the scope of anti-age discrimination was extended to cover all companies and all workers. What is age discrimination? Is it a “wolf culture”? Cost reduction and efficiency improvement, overtime work, what is being penalized is still too light. Furthermore, middle-aged individuals are being forced to do simple, repetitive, and physically demanding work. What is the core reason that everyone is tired and aged? Security, security, security – there is no certainty in the mind, no limit to the bank account balance, and no bottom to the children’s tuition fees.

In recent years, we have been supporting businesses through tax cuts, fee reductions, and refunds, essentially transferring income from government departments to business sectors. This kind of rescue operation by the government for businesses and residents was very effective in the past few years, especially in industries like real estate, internet, infrastructure, and foreign trade that were in a boom cycle. Companies were able to expand their operations and create more job opportunities by reinvesting the profits they earned back into the economy. This naturally provided more choices for middle-aged and young people in the job market.

However, in the current macroeconomic environment over the past two years, the marginal utility of stimulating production and investment has been decreasing. On one hand, tax cuts and fee reductions may not be easily perceived by the general public, who are the main consumers. On the other hand, whether companies receive low-interest loans or tax breaks, most of the profits are being used for financial investments or fixed-term deposits, leading to capital stagnation. This cautious approach to expansion is evident in the trend of companies depositing their funds in fixed-term accounts this year.

To address the challenges of an aging population and sluggish economy, the focus should shift from the supply side to the demand side, from production and investment to consumption, and from the business sector to the residential sector.

Li Xunlei proposed three ways. Firstly, direct transfer payments, providing subsidies to low-income groups, improving the three-pillar pension system, and issuing consumption vouchers with a scale of no less than 1000 yuan per capita. Secondly, shifting from property income in the past real estate sector to increasing financial assets to obtain property income, which requires improving the capital market. Thirdly, the third distribution, where the average level of the top 20% of the total population’s high-income group exceeds the bottom 20% by more than ten times. However, in 2021, the proportion of social donations to GDP in China was only 0.2%, while in the United States, it reached 2.3%. Efforts should be made to encourage the wealthy to donate. Whether these measures are effective or not can only be known after trying them out. Macro fluctuations are related to the livelihoods of millions of individuals, whether they are 40, 30, or 20 years old, all saying they are tired. As the old saying goes, “Only through hardship can one become successful.” Another old saying goes, “In books, there are golden houses and beautiful faces.” Everyone wants to be successful and have a golden house and a beautiful face, but who will be the one to live in a thatched hut and be considered inferior?