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The most educated generation in China’s history was supposed to blaze a trail toward a more innovative and technologically advanced economy. Instead, about 15 million young people are estimated to be jobless, and many are lowering their ambitions.

A perfect storm of factors has propelled unemployment among 16- to 24-year-old urbanites to a record 19.3%, more than twice the comparable rate in the U.S. The government’s hard-line coronavirus strategy has led to layoffs, while its regulatory crackdown on real estate and education companies has hit the private sector. At the same time, a record number of college and vocational school graduates — some 12 million — are entering the job market this summer. This highly educated cohort has intensified a mismatch between available roles and job-seekers’ expectations.

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