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03/14/2013

'Ant tribe' invades Shanghai, Beijing

Canadian parents who wonder when their recently graduated children will finally find employment should consider the predicament faced by their Chinese counterparts.

Unemployed, well-educated Chinese youth are living marginalized lives, broke and in cramped living quarters on the fringes of China’s biggest cities as they struggle to find work.

According to a World Economic Forum blog post by Winston Wenyan Ma, they call themselves the “ant tribe”, due to their industrious and hard working natures combined with their poor living conditions.

Ma blames the tribe’s existence on the Chinese economic model – currently dominated by exporting copied goods. Many economists feel China lacks innovative businesses that could set the giant tiger on a path of sustainable growth by creating new white-collar jobs.

Ma points to a recent national survey that showed those in their early twenties, with a university degree, were four times as likely to be jobless as those without one.

Sadly, many working class parents in rural China save all their lives to send their child to university in the hopes the entire family will eventually benefit.

And because of China’s one-child policy, one family’s entire well-being is often placed on the shoulders of their only offspring.

When I travelled to Shenzhen late last year, many of the young, recent graduates I met working at the Beijing Genomics Institute came from working class families living in rural areas. They proudly represented all their parents’ hope and pride.

However, once these young people do find employment, often the salary is meager and a pittance of what they could earn if living outside of China.

The New York Times recently chronicled one family’s struggles and tears in a thought-provoking read published on Feb. 16,  “Families bet it all on college for their children.”

Tanya Talaga is the Star's Global Economics correspondent. Follow her on Twitter @TanyaTalaga

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