Covid-19 has not left any aspect of China’s economic and social life untouched. But most of all it has devastated one that affects all the others – the job market. As the Post ’s current series exploring the unemployment crisis notes, official data does not give a clear picture. But it is widely believed to underestimate joblessness measured in tens of millions, with self-employed and migrant workers – more than 300 million in all – among those not adequately covered. Before long, about 8 million fresh graduates will join an employment market that they hope will create jobs for them. Years of social progress, including the eradication of poverty, are at stake in meeting expectations and sustaining hope. How to get the world’s second-largest economy back to full employment, without unduly risking an economically catastrophic second wave of infections, will therefore be the central topic at the annual meetings next week of the National People’s Congress, the nation’s parliament, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee. The emerging numbers do nothing to ease grave concerns. Even those factories that have resumed operations are not running at 100 per cent. But manufacturing, the engine of the country’s economic rise, is no longer the biggest creator of jobs. That is now the services sector, the one most affected by the first quarterly economic contraction in 40 years. It has underpinned labour market stability by absorbing newly laid off factory workers, a structural cycle now fractured by the coronavirus pandemic. Employment conditions in the services sector are dependent on the willingness and ability of consumers – both at home and overseas – to spend, which has been sharply curtailed by the pandemic. Many of China’s 180 million export-oriented jobs will be at extended risk until global consumer demand recovers. This presents China’s policy thinkers and decision makers with unprecedented challenges, calling for a range of job-creation measures. Because most jobs are created by small and medium-sized enterprises, discussion on preserving and creating jobs has increasingly focused on saving private companies. Ideas range from exemptions from social security contributions to tax relief to better access to bank loans. They are not uncontroversial, as evidenced by the pushback on welfare contributions, for example. These are fundamental to the goal of the welfare system to build a national safety net. China may be the second biggest economy but it still has to reckon with the cost of a halt to such contributions for an ageing population. Equal access to state bank financing for private firms may have proved an elusive goal. But with social and political stability – and ultimately the ruling party’s political legitimacy – at stake in efforts to revive the job market, no option should be off the table. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.