China's slow economy forces college grads to live in "ant colonies"

(CBS News) BEIJING -- Twenty-one-year-old Yang Le thought finding a job would be the toughest part about moving to Beijing. He was wrong.

Yang Le
Yang Le
CBS News

His $600 monthly salary left him $150 for rent, not enough to afford a room with a window.

"You cannot tell if it's day or night," he told us. "The kitchen stove and shower are broken. I hand wash laundry. There's no air conditioning, I only have a fan."

His roommate couldn't stand the heat and moved out.

Despite having a college degree, wages are low for job seekers. At a recent Beijing job fair, graduates know the odds: only 35 percent have found work.

Song Xiahui
Song Xiahui
CBS News

More than a million recent graduates have ended up crammed into cheap subdivided apartments. They're packed in so tight, they're nicknamed "ants."

These apartments -- "ant colonies" -- are illegal. CBS NEws took a hidden camera to see one with 20 beds and one bathroom. Another unit we saw slept 30.

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"'Ant tribes' refers to a group of people who come to big cities from small towns and strive for their dreams," Song Xiahui told us. "(We) live in cheap and shabby places and have a hectic life."

Song Xiahui, a 23-year-old journalism graduate, works at a magazine making $400 a month.
Song Xiahui, a 23-year-old journalism graduate, works at a magazine making $400 a month.
CBS News

Song, a 23-year-old journalism graduate, is another member of the ant tribe. She works at a magazine making $400 a month -- no more than a supermarket cashier.

She'd dreamed of living in a three-bedroom apartment with friends. Instead, she has three friends in one bedroom.

"It was not until I entered society that I realized real life was completely different," Song told us.

As the economy slows, Song's dreams of finding a high-paying job seems well out of reach.

More than a million recent graduates have ended up crammed into cheap subdivided apartments.
More than a million recent graduates have ended up crammed into cheap subdivided apartments.
CBS News

"Sometimes I want to leave, then I push myself to persist," Song says. "Maybe I will get closer to my dreams one day."

But the reality of her college education is hard to measure. In China, a delivery person can make twice as much as someone with a degree.