Even the factory work that has resumed may not be dependable for long. Customers in the United States and Europe also are not buying Chinese-made goods like they once did. Department stores in the United States, for example, have been canceling and postponing orders.
China’s unemployment statistics — which showed a 5.9 percent urban unemployment rate in March — are notoriously unreliable. Larry Hu, an economist at Macquarie Securities, an Australian investment bank, estimates that China’s urban unemployment rate will nearly double this year. True unemployment may be as high as 20 percent if migrant workers from rural areas are included, according to one estimate from Zhongtai Securities, a Chinese brokerage.
Overall sales of furniture, clothing, household appliances and jewelry each plunged by a quarter to a third in March compared a year earlier. On the street and in malls, many stores have plenty of clerks and some window shoppers but few actual buyers.