Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, USA
Hong Kong
News Release

Unemployment rate rises to 4.2%


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April 20, 2020 - According to the latest labor force statistics (i.e. provisional figures for January - March 2020) released today by the Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased from 3.7% in December 2019 - February 2020 to 4.2% in January - March 2020. The underemployment rate also increased from 1.5% in December 2019 - February 2020 to 2.1% in January - March 2020.

Comparing January - March 2020 with December 2019 - February 2020, the unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) and underemployment rate increased across almost all the major economic sectors, with more distinct increases observed in the construction sector; education sector; transportation sector; and retail, accommodation and food services sector.

Total employment decreased by around 48,800 from 3,768,800 in December 2019 - February 2020 to 3,720,000 in January - March 2020. Over the same period, the labor force also decreased by around 20,800 from 3,903,000 to 3,882,200.

The number of unemployed persons (not seasonally adjusted) increased by around 28,100 from 134,100 in December 2019 - February 2020 to 162,200 in January - March 2020. Over the same period, the number of underemployed persons also increased by around 23,700 from 59,100 to 82,800.

Commenting on the latest unemployment figures, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong said, “The labor market showed further sharp deterioration as the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted a wide range of economic activities. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate soared by 0.5 percentage point to 4.2% in January - March 2020, the highest in more than nine years. The underemployment rate likewise surged by 0.6 percentage point to 2.1%, the highest in nearly a decade. The year-on-year declines in total employment and labor force widened further to 3.6% and 2.2% respectively, both the largest on record.

“The unemployment rate of the consumption- and tourism-related sectors (viz. retail, accommodation and food services sectors) combined soared to 6.8%, the highest since August - October 2009 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis; and the underemployment rate rose to 3.9%, the highest since June - August 2003 following the onslaught of SARS. In particular, the situation in food and beverage service activities was extremely severe, with the unemployment and underemployment rates surging to 8.6% and 5.4% respectively. Meanwhile, the unemployment and underemployment rates of the construction sector went up drastically to 8.5% and 7.1% respectively amid visible slowdown in construction activities. The unemployment and underemployment situation also worsened visibly in the transportation and education sectors. The labor market conditions in most other sectors also saw deterioration of various degrees.”

Looking ahead, Dr Law said, “The labor market will continue to face significant pressure from the economic fallout arising from the pandemic in the near term. The Government has rolled out relief measures of unprecedented scale, including the one-off measures in the 2020-21 Budget and the two rounds of measures under the Anti-epidemic Fund totaling HK$287.5 billion (US$36.8 billion) [around 10% of GDP], with a view to preserving the vitality of the economy and relieving people's financial burdens. Some specific measures, in particular the Employment Support Scheme and various types of support for specific sectors, should help keep workers in employment. The Government will closely monitor the developments, including the progress and effectiveness of the various relief measures.”

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