China’s Ant Tribe

The economic depression has had a dramatic impact on the social fabric of China.  Migrant factory workers were forced to return to an uncertain future in their native provinces when the Dong Guan factories were forced to shutdown.  But the economic down cycle has hit another unanticipated population, China’s college graduates.  University students enter college to move up the echelons, in hopes of escaping a life of poverty.  But this is proving to be elusive and the promise of a university degree is not turning out as they have dreamt.

The “Ant Tribe,” is a term coined by sociologist, Lian Si, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.  The term is used to describe the unemployed and low-income college graduates who live on the outskirts of major cities like Beijing, who barely eek out a living, earning less than 2,000 yuan per month.

China has had problem absorbing the increasing number of students graduating from universities each year.  Students from inner provinces choose to remain in urban centers after graduation.  Universities have not produced students with sufficient skills to meet the increasing skill set demands.  Companies employing new graduates increase the bar, requiring master degrees.  With a poor economy, new graduates are competing for jobs with those who hasn’t found jobs from last year and experienced individuals.

The bottleneck of unemployed graduates compounds each year.  Started in 1999 by the government’s intent was to boost university enrollment to help China transition from low-wage manufacturing economy.  The outcome is turning out with unintended consequences and somehow these “ants” will need to be absorbed into society with decent wage jobs before major disruption to the social order.

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