Pedestrians walk along a street with illuminated signs at night in Macau, China (Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg)  

China Finally Introducing a Globally Comparable Jobless Rate

(Bloomberg) -- The world’s biggest labor market will soon get its first regularly updated monthly jobless rate similar to closely-watched gauges in other major economies like the U.S. and Europe.

Monthly updates of China’s survey-based urban unemployment rate will be released from April, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday in response to a Bloomberg News query. Until now, the only regular official unemployment rate has been a quarterly gauge of urban joblessness that hasn’t deviated much from around 4 percent over the past 15 years, despite economic shifts.

Beijing’s data chiefs have been pledging to upgrade their labor market indicator for years, and have already been releasing the survey-based index irregularly. The surveyed jobless rate stood at 4.98 percent at the end of last year, NBS head Ning Jizhe told reporters in January, after data showed China’s growth accelerated for the first time since 2010.

The new indicator will be more like other benchmarks, providing a better read on employment in the $12 trillion economy that’s playing an increasingly dominant role in propping up global growth. Chinese policy makers are also focusing more on the labor market as they shift emphasis to ensuring higher-quality expansion, away from numerical targets for the pace of growth.

“Regular release of the surveyed unemployment rate is step forward for China’s statistical system,” said Tom Orlik, chief Asia economist at Bloomberg in Beijing. “Transparency on the methodology and granularity in the breakdown would bolster credibility.”

April Release

The first release of the new rate is planned for some time next month and will give data for March, the NBS told Bloomberg. The bureau didn’t specify an exact announcement date or say how many cities or households the rate will be based on. Prior releases of the index have included different samples drawn from varying numbers of cities, making comparison over time difficult.

The survey-based unemployment gauge is already hitting the target officials unveiled this week at the annual gathering of the National People’s Congress. Premier Li Keqiang in his report to delegates Monday set a goal of keeping the rate “within 5.5 percent.”

The old quarterly gauge is based on applications for social benefits, which exclude the quarter of a billion workers who make up the country’s migrant labor force.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.