Hong Kong jobless rate hits 16-year high

Hong Kong's jobless rate hit a 16-year high in the October-December period as the fourth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak further compounded the labor market situation.

Hong Kong’s jobless rate hit a 16-year high in the October-December period as the fourth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak further compounded the labor market situation, official data showed today.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose from 6.3 percent in the September-November period to 6.6 percent in the October-December period, the Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government said in a press release.

Meanwhile, the underemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.4 percent, data showed.

Law Chi-kwong, secretary for labor and welfare of the HKSAR government, said the unemployment rate in the consumption- and tourism-related sectors, including retail, accommodation and food services, rebounded by 0.5 percentage point to 10.6 percent in the October-December period, and that the situation in the food and beverage services sector was the most severe, with the jobless rate being up to 13.8 percent.

The unemployment rate in many other sectors also rose, Law said.

Looking ahead, Law predicted that the labor market will remain under notable pressure in the near term as the coronavirus epidemic will continue to weigh on local consumption sentiment and disrupt economic activities.

The ongoing epidemic will dampen the consumption activity during the upcoming traditional peak season, said Chow Man-kong, deputy director of the China Economic Research Program at Lingnan University, adding that business incomes will be negatively affected as consumption potential cannot be unleashed.

Wong Kah-woh, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants & Related Trades, expects about 3,000 restaurants to shut down during March to May if the epidemic continues to rage and social distancing measures are maintained.

The HKSAR government has rolled out unprecedented relief measures to help businesses and individuals cope.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong authorities launched an employment scheme to encourage local college graduates to pursue their careers in the mainland cities of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.

The scheme involves as many as 2,000 job opportunities with government granting enterprises for each graduate they employed a monthly allowance of 10,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$1,290) for up to 18 months.

The jobless rate in essence is determined by the epidemic, Yang Yuchuan, a professor with the Hong Kong Financial Services Institute, explained.

After the epidemic is brought under control, normal cross-border travel will resume and the tourism and other sectors will also recover, Yang said, adding that businesses will then see hope and the labor market will improve.

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