BEIJING (Reuters) - China's urban jobless rate held steady for the eighth straight quarter at 4.1 percent at the end of June, the labor ministry said on Wednesday, even after the economy cooled to its slowest growth rate in three years.
The measure is China's only official unemployment indicator but many analysts say the figure grossly underestimates the true number of jobless because it omits about 160 million migrant workers from its surveys.
China created 6.94 million new jobs in urban areas in the first half of 2012, accounting for 77 percent of its annual target of creating 9 million new jobs in 2012, Yin Chengji, spokesman for the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, told a media briefing.
Yin said 2.94 million urban workers were re-employed in the first six months, meeting 59 percent of the annual target to have 5 million unemployed workers move back into jobs, according to a live webcast of the briefing.
China's job market has remained relatively tight so far this year, partly reflecting the country's demographic shifts, compared with 2008/09 when a sudden collapse of exports sent some 20 million Chinese migrant workers homebound.
There is no massive return home of immigrant workers so far, but some smaller firms are on the verge of cutting jobs and the country also faces "a more acute mismatch" between demand and the supply of highly-skilled workers, Yin said.
"More laborers will enter the job market in the second half and employment pressures will grow bigger," Yin said.
"We will closely monitor changes in the second half and take some timely measures to ensure basically stable employment," he said, adding slowing economic growth tends to have a lagging impact on the job market.
Many college graduates are struggling to find jobs.
China's Premier Wen Jiabao warned last week that the job market could turn for the worse and the government must step up efforts to create more employment.
The government has vowed to create 85 million jobs in urban and rural areas between 2012 and 2015 while holding the jobless rate under 5 percent, underscoring its resolve to stave off any unrest that may flare up as China's economy slows.
Maintaining social stability is crucial for Beijing as the country heads into a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
China's annual economic growth hit a three-year low of 7.6 percent in the second quarter.
The HSBC Flash China manufacturing purchasing managers index rose to 49.5 in July from 48.2 in June, close to the 50 level that divides expansion from contraction, but the employment sub-index, deteriorated versus June, sinking further below 50 to its lowest level since March 2009.
Reporting by Langi Chiang and Kevin Yao; Editing by Ed Lane