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Searching for Jobs After SARS
About 14 million urban job seekers will be disappointed this year because too many people are looking for too few jobs, an official report has revealed.

About 24 million new urban job-seekers, laid-off workers from state-owned enterprises and the registered jobless have been swarming into job fairs, but only 10 million openings at the most will be available by the end of this year, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security said in the latest report.

A ministerial official surnamed Zhang said Monday that the report, authored by renowned experts and economists, has already been widely issued to governments at all levels across the nation to help them relieve the increased headache, which partly resulted from the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak.

Lin Yueqin, a researcher from the Economic Research Institute affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the government should devise policies to cushion those industries against the impact of SARS on employment. "The SARS outbreak will not affect China's economic growth in the long run but its job market will be hardest hit," said Lin.

Despite a slow recovery, the retail, catering, hotel and recreation industries were dealt the biggest blow from SARS.

There are about 50 million people employed in these sectors. If their total business shrank by 10 to 20 percent, 5 to 10 million jobs would be under threat.

Tourism, real estate, construction, training and household services have also been seriously affected. About 100 million workers are engaged in these sectors. If these sectors earn 5 to 10 percent less revenue, about 5 to 10 million jobs will be affected.

Lin said many enterprises will not expand their recruitment or production this year because of the SARS outbreak, reducing the number of new jobs available.

Echoing Lin's suggestion, Mo Rong, an expert from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, said the situation required emergency measures such as providing living subsidies to unemployed workers in SARS-hit areas, and reducing taxes on certain companies and industries to prevent possible job cuts.

"The government should ban employers from cutting short employment contracts without good reason and from firing staff during the SARS crisis," said Mo.

A group of experts recently suggested that the government should urgently take heed of this advice in order to prevent fluctuations of employment when crises such as SARS occur.

Mao Yushi, a renowned economist from the Beijing-based Unirule Economic Institute, said social security measures should cover not only urban residents, but also migrant farmers.

"Many migrants left the cities when the SARS appeared because of fear, with no unemployment benefit or insurance," said Mao.

About 8 million farmers returned home during April and May and now 73 percent are still waiting to see if the cities are safe enough to return and find jobs. "They are idle and their income has greatly reduced, which has affected consumption," said Mao.

Meanwhile, taxes on affected sectors should be reduced and government fees should be cancelled and the related governmental departments should conduct regular check on efficiency over the measures, which have already been deployed in certain industries in some regions.

The experts also suggested that the government should encourage people to open new businesses by relaxing regulations, lowering capital requirements, simplifying registration and approval procedures, and reducing various charges.

(China Daily June 24, 2003)

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