"You can’t earn a living. All you can do is hold out with your truck," said a truck driver surnamed Yang, of difficulties for transport workers under China's pandemic prevention measures and new economic reality. China has approximately 20 million truck drivers, responsible for about 70 percent of the country's freight traffic.
Delivering essential goods and materials from city to city, truck drivers are at high risk of Covid-19 infection and are a main target for localities trying to prevent and control the virus spread. Truck drivers help keep cities operating, but their well-being while doing so is ignored: they have been stranded on the road for days at a time, physically locked inside their cabs without adequate food and hygiene measures, and subject to varying Covid-19 testing policies and travel restrictions as they transport goods.
"The pressure of an empty truck is the biggest,” said one trucker in a media interview. When cargo is on board, the owners will generally help drivers deal with pandemic prevention policies and respond to their needs to ensure delivery. But if the truck is empty, no one cares, leaving drivers even more isolated and helpless in the face of the Covid prevention policies.
Driver Huang from Shanghai spoke of the economic burden of vehicle loans and increased competition: "Good jobs for good pay are very difficult to get. Our old customers are now placing orders online, which means we have lost our relationship with them. With the pandemic tossed in, you really can't make any money."
The pandemic has also affected China’s urban unemployment rate, which, at 6.1 percent in April 2022, is its highest since the rise at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 (6.2 percent). For China’s 31 major cities, the rate is 6.7 percent and has peaked for two consecutive months. This pattern goes against the typical trend in which there is a rise in unemployment around the Lunar New Year, typically rebounding again in the spring.
Data show that the unemployment trend is especially pronounced for China’s migrant workers and young people. China’s 16-24 year olds have the highest unemployment rate ever, at 18.2 percent. The CIER Index, which compares the number of job vacancies with the number of job applicants, for higher education graduates is at its lowest ever, 0.71, meaning job competition among young people is fierce. The national index is 1.52.
Migrant workerls in urban areas saw a jump in unemployment rate compared to the general population. New data available from China’s National Bureau of Statistics reveals that there are about 292 million migrant workers in China in 2021, an increase of 6.9 million (2.4 percent) from the total estimated population of 285.6 million in 2020. CLB has updated our explainer on Migrant Workers and Their Children to reflect new data on this population.