The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Young Chinese: Take This Factory Job and Shove It

ChinaFactory

Young Chinese workers don’t want to work in factories anymore. Terry Gou, founder and Chief executive of Foxconn, China’s largest private employer and one of the manufacturers for the iPhone and iPad, claims that Chinese millennials aspire to more than the low-wage, mundane factory jobs which were held by so many in the previous generation and  which spurred China’s decades-long economic boom. Gau is now worried that the company will soon be unable to fill the low-wage factory positions that have been the bread and butter of employment in China for years. The FT reports:

“The young generation don’t want to work in factories, they want to work in services or the internet or another more easy and relaxed job,” he said on the sidelines of a meeting of Asian business and political leaders in Bali, Indonesia. [...]

While Foxconn has been lobbying the government for tax and other incentives, as it has typically received when expanding both within China and elsewhere abroad, Indonesian officials have been pushing the company to invest in research and technology to ensure Foxconn does not just open in Indonesia to take advantage of wages that are as much as 50 per cent cheaper than in China.

This is emblematic of larger shifts in China’s economy. As wages inch upward and the country becomes more prosperous, workers demand more: higher wages, better working conditions, more rewarding jobs.

Broadly speaking, this is a good thing for most Chinese, but for the country as a whole it’s a major shift, and it’s happening very quickly. The big question is whether it will be able to adapt soon enough.

[Chinese factory image courtesy of Shutterstock]

Published on October 7, 2013 5:10 pm
  • lukelea

    “This is emblematic of larger shifts in China’s economy. As wages inch upward . . .”

    Inch is the right word and they have miles to go. We kid ourselves when we underestimate the size of the low-wage labor pool in China. The fact that other East Asian countries add to the pool only adds to the long-term woes of low-skilled workers in America.

    As for ““The young generation don’t want to work in factories, they want to work in services or the Internet or another more easy and relaxed job”, that was as true ten or twenty years ago as today. Read Peter Hetzler’s book Country Driving or his wife’s book, Factory Girls, for some good behind-the-scenes reporting.

    Trade with East Asia is unavoidably causing a vast redistribution of wealth in the United States.* Unless we can undo this market effect with wage-subsidies and a graduated expenditure tax, old-fashioned protectionism is the only answer left.

    *Of course it is not the only cause. New labor-saving technologies and massive low-skilled immigration also contribute. Neither of our two major political parties seems willing to face up to reality. A hard rain is gonna’ fall.

  • hxpro

    As soon as Mexicans get some underground tunnels over there you guys should have no problem with work your citizens don’t want to do. You’ll have to sacrifice your language and culture however to the impending invasion.

  • Billy___Bob

    Robots and massive unemployment are the future.

    And then 3D printers will get good enough to print anything you want (10 years?) and then it will get really weird.

  • David Govett

    The problem about not wanting something is that you can’t always get what you prefer.
    Reality is like that, sad to say.

  • Ron

    After all the stories, who can blame them.

  • sarah3723

    Maybe they can hire H1-B’s and anyone who illegally enters the country.