Hong Kong’s jobless rate retreats from 17-year high

Hong Kong’s jobless rate declined in the first quarter of this year as the pressure on the labour market began to ease due to an abating Covid-19 epidemic, official data showed.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate retreated to 6.8 per cent during the January-March period, down from a 17-year high of 7.2 per cent registered from December to February, according to the Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government released on Thursday, Xinhua news agency reported.

“The labour market was under notable pressure in the first quarter of 2021, but the situation stabilized in the latter part of the quarter as the fourth wave of the local epidemic receded,” Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said.

The unemployment rate of the consumption- and tourism-related sectors, namely retail, accommodation and food services sectors, combined fell by 0.4 percentage point to 10.7 per cent. In particular, the rate for food and beverage service went down from 14.1 per cent to 13.3 per cent.

Looking ahead, Law said the labour market may still face challenges in the near term as the pace of recovery is uneven across sectors.

However, if the local epidemic situation continues to be contained, the operating environment for consumer-facing economic sectors may improve, which will help ease the pressure on the labour market, he said.

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate has remained high over the past year as the economy has been reeling from the double blows of social unrest and the epidemic.

Analysts considered Thursday’s figure an encouraging sign after months of job losses and business closures but pointed out the situation has yet to turn around completely.

Liang Haiming, a Hong Kong-based economist, called for continued efforts to create jobs, especially for young people, and stressed that more has to be done to ensure people’s livelihood and facilitate an economic recovery.

In particular, mainland cities of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area could offer numerous job opportunities for Hong Kong college graduates, he said.

The HKSAR government has introduced the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme to help youth pursue a career in vibrant mainland markets.

Over the first three months since the scheme was launched on January 8, 275 businesses have provided over 2,000 job vacancies covering a wide range of areas from finance to education, and nearly 6,000 people have filed their applications.

Liang believes that the recovery of the labour market and the wider economy still relies on when the epidemic can be taken under control, urging the vaccination program to be pushed forward at a faster pace.

About 1.17 million vaccine doses have been administered in Hong Kong as far, with nearly 400,000 people fully vaccinated.