Chinese More Optimistic Than Americans About Jobs

Chinese optimistic about jobsUnsurprisingly, more Americans say it's a bad time to find a job now than before the recession began. But China has experienced an opposite trend, according to a new Gallup poll. Fewer Chinese say it's a bad time to find a job in their area today, and a record number say that it's actually a good time to go job-hunting.

Gallup has conducted a global survey of people's attitudes towards job opportunities every year since 2007. While half of the U.S. workforce has a formal full-time job, compared to only 30 to 39 percent of the Chinese workforce, Chinese attitudes are distinctly sunnier.

The majority of Americans and Chinese agree that it's a bad time to find a job in their local area right now, but in America it's a much larger majority: 72 percent compared to 56 percent, although that number is down from its 84 percent peak in 2009. Chinese cynicism, on the other hand, has gradually eroded over the last four years.

People in developing countries are more optimistic than ever about their opportunities, according to surveys over the last few years, as economic reforms, globalization, and improved education have rapidly buoyed incomes and quality of life. At the same time, a cloud has hovered over the developed world, as slow growth, spiking unemployment, and austerity measures have shaken the faith of many in the notion of national progress.

These trends began even before the recession. A Pew Research Center report from 2007 found that satisfaction with quality of life had risen dramatically in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia over the previous five years, while those numbers had stagnated in the U.S. and Western Europe, even though the percentage of the population that couldn't afford fundamentals like food, health care and clothing, was significantly lower in the developed regions.

Satisfaction with the "state of the nation" had dropped in Western Europe and the U.S. over that same period, while skyrocketing in the ascendent world. These responses correlate strongly with the growth of gross domestic product. In Asia, a GDP expansion of 24 percent over five years was more than double that of the U.S., and four times that of Western Europe. Eastern Europe raced even further ahead with a dizzying per capita growth of 36 percent.

Sixty percent of Americans said that the next generation would be worse off. Just 6 percent of Chinese said the same.

"In a world of depressing news, it's pretty fabulous to see this kind of momentum," said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, economist and founder of the Center for Work Life Policy and co-author of "Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets," at a recent conference, sponsored by The Economist.

A third of Chinese now say that it's a good time to find a job, according to the Gallup poll, more than ever before. A quarter of Americans agree -- double the number in 2009, but still only half of the 50 percent who said the same before the recession began. Chinese and Americans rate the job opportunities in their local area similarly, but the Chinese are much happier about happier about it.

This is because most Chinese aren't used to having a job with a stable monthly paycheck, explains Rajesh Srinivasan, the Asian Regional Director for the Gallup World Poll. "Having it and losing it is far worse than never having it," he says.

A graph of American attitudes
show the steep swings and sharp angles that have accompanied the last few years of economic uncertainty. The Chinese graph, in contrast, indicates the rising hopes of a rapidly developing nation.

Americans are roughly split over whether local economic conditions are improving or degrading. But in China, 80 percent of respondents say the economic conditions in their community are improving, with only 5 percent saying the opposite. In fact, attitudes are so rosy in China that a Pew Research Center report from March of this year found that pro-democracy murmurs were unlikely to emerge in China in the near future, despite a 2009 per capita GDP of $3,700, according to the World Bank. That's less than both Tunisia's and Libya's at the time their revolutions erupted.

When 91 percent of your population believe the country's economic situation is good, there are probably few people willing to set themselves on fire.

This growth may not be sustainable, however. China has an imbalanced, export-dependent economy, and some critics have been hinting at a looming collapse in growth. Perhaps no one has hinted at this louder than Jim Walker, the founder and CEO of the consultancy Asianomics, who believes that China has loaned and inflated itself to the brink of recession.

The average Chinese person on the street, however, "isn't even aware of these discussions," in the words of Srinivasan. "The media they consume is fairly bland. On a need-to-know basis."

Still, when Reuters polled 30 economists last week, not one said that China's growth next year would slip below 8 percent. The U.S. GDP growth last quarter, in comparison, was 1.3 percent.

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