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Saudi employment numbers improve

Unemployment in Saudi Arabia is higher than in other Gulf states, but the labor market is showing signs of strength in other areas.

Saudi Arabia reported decreases in its unemployment rates today. 

The unemployment rate for Saudi citizens in the country (not including foreigners) was 9.7% in the second quarter of 2022, down 0.4% from the first quarter. The unemployment rate for men fell 0.3% to 4.7%. The rate for women fell 0.9% to 19.3%. Saudi Arabia’s overall unemployment rate including foreigners was 5.8% in the second quarter, the General Authority for Statistics said in a release. 

Why it matters: The number of women in the Saudi workforce has increased dramatically in recent years. In the past five years, the percentage of Saudi women in the workforce has doubled to 35%, the Saudi government said in May. 

While unemployment for women remains relatively high, Bloomberg reported today that the 19.3% unemployment rate for women is the lowest on record. 

Know more: Saudi Arabia’s overall unemployment rate was higher than that of its Gulf neighbors at the end of 2021. Saudi unemployment at the end of the year stood at 7.4% — the same as at the end of 2020. Unemployment increased from 5.7% to 7.4% from 2019 to 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Arab Emirates’ unemployment rate was 3.4% at the end of 2021, while Bahrain’s was 1.9% and Qatar’s was only 0.3%, according to data from The World Bank

Population size is one reason Saudi Arabia has had higher unemployment rates than its Gulf neighbors, according to one scholar at the DC-based Arab Gulf States Institute. 

"The combination of a large population and a significant youth bulge means a steady flow of new entrants into the job market each year. Absorbing all of these jobseekers is no easy task," Dr. Robert C. Mogielnicki told Al-Monitor. 

There are other positive indications in the Saudi job market. The government is incentivizing women to join the workforce and has reduced restrictions on foreign workers switching jobs. More workers are switching sectors to find better pay, and the economy is being helped by higher oil prices, according to a January report from the DC-based think tank the Brookings Institution

Columbia University scholar and Al-Monitor contributor Karen E. Young said that Saudi Arabia has had some success with regards to women entering the workforce.

"The general trend has been a real increase in working women, one of the more successful aspects of the reforms of the last six years," she told Al-Monitor. 

Mogielnicki expressed a similar view. 

"With respect to Saudi women and their job prospects, it seems like Saudi officials are making progress increasing female participation in the labor force," said Mogielnicki. "This makes sense, as the economic and social transformations underway in the country are expanding opportunities for female workers.”

Editor's note: this article was edited to include comments from scholars. 

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