Young Graduates Seek Employment Overseas
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 17, 2011
June is when college students graduate. President Ma Ying-jeou and Vice President Vincent Siew spent most of this last weekend visiting universities and giving graduating students pep talks. But the the financial tsunami has taken its toll. Graduates emerging from college campuses today suffer from high unemployment. Even those who have found work, must endure low starting salaries.
The unemployment rate on Taiwan is seasonal. Between June and August, over 200,000 students graduate from college. They join the ranks of job seekers. The unemployment rate soars accordingly. That the unemployment rate increases between June and August each year is nothing to fear. That is merely a seasonal phenomenon. Of more concern is the period just before graduation. In late 2008, the financial tsunami slowed. Its impact however, is still felt on the job market. The United States and Europe both suffer from youth unemployment. The situation on Taiwan is no different. Today the youth unemployment rate is still higher than before the financial tsunami, by 1 to 2 percentage points. Many aspiring young people with Masters degrees and Doctorates are finding their ambitions thwarted by circumstances, Many of them held lofty ideals, only to have their dreams shattered. They look at the soaring cost of urban housing, and depression overwhelms them, We know how they feel.
According to DGBAS statistics, young people on Taiwan between 20 and 24 suffered a 12.4% unemployment rate in April. The 25 to 29-year-old youth unemployment rate was 7.2%. Youth unemployment remains much higher than the overall average. Worse still, the employment survey covered not just domestic employment. but overseas employment. In other words, take away overseas employment opportunities, and the unemployment rate for young people on Taiwan today would be even higher.
The government is trying to understand these unemployment and employment trends. Each month it surveys 20,000 households regarding their employment situation. The survey counts the number of people registered at any particular household, rather than its long term residents. Anyone registered as a member of a household on Taiwan is counted. It matters not whether he or she works in Shanghai, Kunshan, Singapore, or Ho Chi Minh City. He or she is counted as part of Taiwan's workforce. This accounting approach, which includes overseas employment, naturally helps reduce the unemployment rate on Taiwan. But in fact these were not employment opportunities created on Taiwan.
Precisely how many people from Taiwan are employed overseas? We have no exact figures, only occasional studies, conducted by various agencies. But the DGBAS surveyed various industries. In recent years, overseas employment has continued to increase. Between January 2008 and March 2011, surveys of households showed that private employment increased by 300,000. Industry surveys showed an increase of only 19 million people employed. Surveys of households included overseas employment. Surveys of Industry included only domestic employment. If not for increased overseas employment, such discrepancies would not have appeared.
Now increase the time frame to ten years. Over the past decade surveys of industry show employment increasing by only 90 million people. Since surveys of households show employment increasing by 140 million people, the gap between the two is even more apparent. This shows that for nearly a decade overseas employment has been increasing. When the government boasts that employment has increased and unemployment has declined, we must not be too happy. This probably includes the contribution of overseas employment. We on Taiwan have not created any significant employment opportunities.
Some may argue that surveys of households include foundations, research institutions, cram schools, and religious groups. In part this is because industry surveys failed to include them. Naturally differences will arise between the two. But we find it hard to believe that over the past decade surveys of households showed 500,000 more people employed than surveys of industry. We find it hard to believe that the number of teachers, priests, and monks increased so drastically. If our above reasoning is correct, then the statistical difference is the result of significant changes in overseas employment over this period.
It is important to distinguish between domestic employment and foreign employment. High-ranking officials have long assumed that long term employment growth means that government policies took effect. In fact such growth was probably the result of increased overseas employment, and utterly unrelated to government policies. Domestic employment must be distinguished from foreign employment. Otherwise it will be difficult to verify the effectiveness of industrial policies and employment policies. The government will then misjudge how ordinary people actually feel.
How can the government distinguish between domestic and overseas employment? It must get to the root of the statistical sample. It must count the number of long term residents rather than the number of people registered at any particular household. This will enable it to better estimate domestic and overseas employment. It will also enable it to better estimate the total number of jobs created by various counties and municipalities. But so far the government has not compelled those working or studying in other counties and municipalities to register where they work. Currently the government has only household registry data, and no long term resident data. Overseas workers who fail to return to Taiwan within two years are reclassified as non-residents. Otherwise, they remain registered residents. The government must make changes. It must cease using household registries as its statistical base. Domestically, doing so fails to show employment opportunities within various counties and municipalities. Internationally, it fails to account for the number of people employed overseas.
Accurate employment statistics will enable the government to more readily count absentee ballots for future presidential or legislative elections. The government must compile statistics on the long term residents. These statistics will be vital when estimating the economic strength of our nation, The ruling administration must take on this task. It must make comprehensive plans, give the problem higher priority, and form inter-ministerial groups to ensure its early completion.