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China Works to Help Unemployed Families Find Jobs

Before Chen Shuqing, a 56-year-old laid-off worker in northern Hebei Province, started a small laundry three years ago, the whole family had been living on a monthly pension of 165 yuan (about US$22) for two years.

Chen and her husband Zhao Zhenhua were laid off from a mechanics factory in Chengde City in 2003. They were among hundreds of thousands of families across China called "zero-employment households," or urban families with no member having a job.

"We had no income except the slim pension that could barely make ends meet, let alone supported our son at university," Chen said.

"For lack of skills, I couldn't find a job until I attended a 20-day training course -- how to start a business -- given by the city's labor and social security bureau in 2005. Then I was inspired to run a laundry," the husband said.

Zhao's idea was approved by the local government and he applied for a loan of 20,000 yuan as an initial fund. His business was also exempted from income tax totaling 7,200 yuan a year.

"We now earn a profit of several thousand yuan a month," Zhao said.

Like Chen and Zhao, about 243,000 laid-off workers were reemployed or became their own bosses in Hebei last year. At least one member in 11,075 zero-employment families found themselves jobs with the aid of skill training courses.

According to the statistics of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, China has helped 5.15 million unemployed people find jobs since last June, 1.53 million from poverty-stricken families. With various supporting and preferential policies like tax exemption, at least one person from 869,000 zero-employment families was hired across the country last year, accounting for 99.9 percent of the total.

"However, a large number of people still have difficulties in finding jobs due to China's large population and the fact that laborers are mostly in need of knowledge and skills," said Guo Gengmao, governor of Hebei Province.

Guo predicted that by 2010 Hebei faces a job shortage of 1.5 million for urban residents alone, excluding 10 million rural migrant workers ready to flood into cities and non-agricultural industries.

To raise skills levels for the jobless, especially from zero-employment families, all local governments in Hebei are required to invest 10 percent their annual revenue in reemployment projects.

The province offered 900,000 people a free job information service and professional orientation service last year, and 60 percent of them got jobs through this help.

In China, more than six million people benefited from various skills training courses for reemployment and 600,000 others were instructed in how to start a business in the previous year.

"Apart from giving small loans and training courses, we should also boost the economy by developing service industries and small-sized enterprises. I think this is the fundamental way of creating job opportunities," Guo said.

"In fact, individual provinces or cities have come up with many effective ways of expanding employment, such as exempting taxes, granting small loans, giving job training courses and encouraging business startups," said Liu Yonghao, member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on March 5 in his government work report that providing adequate employment opportunities in China, which had the largest population in the world, was a daunting challenge.

"We must redouble our efforts to increase employment, a matter that is crucial to people's well-being," the premier said. He also proposed to "create a permanent mechanism to help zero-employment families find jobs."

Hearing the news, Zhao and Chen were quite excited about it. "We plan to start 10 branches this year and hire more laid-off workers just like us."

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2008)

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