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China Wants Jobs for 'Zero-Employment' Families

The Chinese government, faced with daunting tasks to boost the country's employment, has launched a drive to ensure that at least one person in each family has a job.

In the port district of Qinhuangdao City, north China's Hebei Province, 50-year-old Zhang Wencai has just been given a rent-free booth in a market near his home to sell cloths.

Zhang and his wife had not had any jobs after they were laid off from a local mechanics factory in 2003.

"With our age and our lack of skills, being unemployed is not only humiliating, but destructive for the family," he said.

The family now earns about 600 yuan a month. "It is not much, but at least it's a job for us," Zhang said.

Zhang's family is among thousands of families across China that are called "zero-employment households", or urban families with no member having any jobs.

"We encourage people to get jobs and stand on their own feet, but still a large number of families had difficulties looking for jobs, usually due to couples being laid off at the same time, old age or lack of skills," said Tian Fen, deputy head of the Hebei provincial labour and social security department.

"Finding jobs for the zero-employment households are particularly challenging, but our work needs to be started from the people with the most difficulties," she said.

The port district employment service bureau in Qinhuangdao has paid 160,000 yuan (about US$21,300) this year to rent 130 booths for families like Zhang.

In the neighboring Tangshan City, community service staffs contacted factories to get contracts for its jobless residents to make handbags and trinkets.

Across the province, the government gives employers a monthly subsidy of 300 yuan per person if they get people from zero-employment families on their payroll.

In other provinces, officials are also exerting every wit to find jobs for these families.

Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality raised the yearly subsidy from 1,000 yuan to 2,000 yuan to encourage employers hire people from zero-employment families. In neighboring Sichuan province, an official is assigned to every such family to help them look for jobs.

Chen Wanzhi, director of the Tianjiadun community in Huangshi City, central China's Hubei province, said she tried to seize every opportunity to create and look for jobs for the residents in her community.

"We persuaded the residents to build a furnace to provide hot water, because the furnace brings jobs. We cut rents for businesses in the community so that they would hire our people, and we always keep our eyes open in case any company in the city needed hands," she said.

In June, China's Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) set a target that at least one person in 80 percent of the zero-employment households in China's urban areas will have a job by the end of this year.

"We are confident that we can excel the target and land jobs for about a total of 10,209 zero-employment families in the province," Tian said.

China has been able to put its urban employment rate in check, bringing the figure from 4.3 percent in 2003 to 4.1 percent by the end of last year.

(Xinhua News Agency October 14,2 007)

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