Record numbers are unemployed back home and Chinese jobseekers face stability-threatening tough times here in China. Yet far from the “real world,” certain foreigners in Beijing have never had any problems finding gainful employ. Perhaps, that is, until now…
These foreigners, sometimes referred to using the hideous term “halfpats,” make a living doing things that Chinese staff cannot do, but that do not require special experience or qualifications. Since many have questionable legal status in Beijing, their strange economy is seldom analysed. However, attempting to do just that, The Peking Order took a trip back in time using the Wayback Machine - an online archive which stores websites as they appeared at certain times throughout digital history.
theBeijinger.com is the first place any foreign ESL teacher looks for a school or some rich private students, where average-looking people find modelling work, and where it would be possible for even someone as awkward as me to find a job as an actor. I have heard that even "real jobs" can be found at this one-stop shop. So, what better economic indicator could there be than the number of job ads in their classifieds section?
Although archived entries for theBeijinger go no further back than late 2007, just comparing the amount of job ads last week with the amount last year is, to some extent, instructive.
On Jan 29, 2009, there were 512 adverts filed under "Employment Available." Exactly one year ago, there were 1106 jobs under the equivalent category. Over the course of a year, the amount of jobs that can be viewed on Beijing's premiere foreigner classifieds site fell a whopping 53.7%.
Freakonomics - an economics book for people that don’t read books - reminds us that there is a different side to every statistic. Applying Pekonomics, "less people using theBeijinger" or "shorter storage period for ads” are possible reasons, as likely as they are boring, that no conclusions can be drawn from this figure alone.
However, if we compare this pair of numbers with another pair, a pair that is likely to be equally affected by outside factors, my analysis may be more enlightening. I looked at the number of adverts posted by people seeking jobs. If there had been noticeable negative changes to Beijing’s foreigner job market, we might expect this number to have shot up.
No such luck. At the end of January of this year, 365 adverts were posted by people looking for jobs. At the same time last year, there were 548 adverts. This also represents a fall, this time of 34%. Falls in both figures suggest that discrepancies were largely caused by something other than the global economic downturn. I have displayed the results of my obsessive calculations in the following chart:
However, the fact that the two figures did not fallen at the same rate shows that there may still be something to conclude from my time-consuming endeavour…
On Jan 29, 2008, for every 1 advert placed to seek a job, there was a little over 2 adverts for available jobs. At the same time this year, for every 1 advert placed to seek a job, there were just 1.4 adverts for available jobs. So, less job ads per job-seeking ads might mean, after all, that less of these types of job are available in Beijing, that there are more foreigners seeking this type of work, or a bit of both.
So, if “halfpat” foreigners are facing tougher times, what might this mean? Well, fewer drinks might be sold in Kai bar, fewer in-joke t-shirts might be bought in Nanluoguxiang, and maybe even Annie's delivery will start receiving less phone calls. A more positive way of looking at it, however, is that for the time being it is more likely that Beijing will benefit from more qualified English teachers, better-looking models, and some foreign actors with a bit more stage presence.
Of course, any of this to hold any real significance, much more rigorous statistical analysis would have to be carried out. However, in the same way that not all of us here are real teachers, actors or models, I am not a real statistician.