Over half a million of China’s 2011 university graduates  are still without work, according to media reports last month, the latest in an apparently unending stream of bad news for Chinese students entering the job market.

This year’s seemingly dismal data hides the fact that compared to previous years, prospects appear to be slowly but steadily improving both for students looking for their first job and the newly-employed navigating the workforce.

Pic: China Photos/Getty

A survey this past August by the educational research company Mycos found that 53 percent of recent graduates are unsatisfied with their present jobs.

But this figure is a clear improvement from last year, when 60 percent of those surveyed reported disappointment with their new positions.

This lack of either material or emotional fulfillment has led many recent graduates to seek greener pastures.

Mycos reported in August that one third of all university graduates quit their first job less than one year after entering the workforce.

Of those who quit, 30 percent cited a lack of “space for personal development” as their main reason for leaving their job, while 21 percent pointed to low salaries and poor benefits.

But even this figure is an improvement from the year before.

Last year, Mycos reported that 34 percent of 2010 graduates quit their job within only six months.  The previous year, a significantly lower 20 percent of 2009 graduates quit within the same time period.

In both years, the quit rate was roughly 10 percent lower for graduates of China’s “Project 211” schools – a list of the country’s 113 top institutions – compared to other universities.

But unsatisfied as they may be, these newest members of China’s workforce are the envy of many of their classmates, who struggle to find job for months after graduation.

But graduate unemployment has steadily declined over recent years.  Ten percent of 2011 graduates remained unemployed six months after graduation, according to MyCos, the same number as in 2010, and down from 13 percent the year before, and 14 percent in 2008.

These statistics are little encouragement to those searching for work out of college, though, and bear little relation to their daily experiences in China’s ultra-competitive job market.

“It is getting even harder for us to get a job than the previous graduates of my major because fewer positions are left for me and my classmates,” said Li Junjie, who graduated from the Communication University of China in Beijing this past June.

“Media outlets here look for professionals or native English speakers, not fresh Chinese graduates with only a diploma,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in August.