High Youth Unemployment Still Plagues Arab Spring Countries

Article Summary
The Arab Spring has done little in terms of improving the economic outlook for the region’s youth, reveals a recent report. Mohammed Sharqi writes that youth unemployment is on the rise while a number of problems — such as an over-reliance on an under-productive service sector for economic growth — remain unresolved.

A study conducted by the International Labor Organization in Geneva has concluded that the Arab Spring revolutions were not of much benefit to the Arab youth across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in terms of employment. The youth led the push for social mobility that took place in Tunisia at the end of 2010 before extending to Egypt, Libya, Syria and other countries in the region. The economic downturn and the fiscal deficit in many countries have negatively affected the labor market. The number of unemployed youth, especially university graduates, has risen.

The study also discussed the poor conditions within the labor market during this past year. Youth unemployment in North Africa has increased by about 5%, reaching 27%. The worldwide rate of unemployment is 12.7%. Youth unemployment reached 21.5% in Algeria, nearly 30% in both Egypt and Tunisia and 17% in Morocco. These rates include all social, cultural and educational levels.

The number of young people in the world increased by about 75 million this year. These increases were mainly witnessed in Western Europe, Latin America, North Africa and Eastern and Central Europe.

The study pointed out that four out of ten young people in the region were living in poverty in 2011 due to low-paying jobs. Meanwhile, 40% of youth were faced with low wages that couldn’t cover basic expenses, forcing young people to live with their families.

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In 2011, 38% of region-wide public expenditures were spent on wages, but this did not help the governments to overcome the issue of youth unemployment. The young population is exploding in low-productivity economies that are not sufficiently competitive on the international level.

In the MENA region, 29% of total jobs are in the public sector. This rate reaches 40% in Egypt, 20% in Algeria and 11% in Morocco.

The agricultural sector is one of the region's most important economic sectors. It accounted for 33% of economic output last year, second only to the service sector, which accounted for 50%. However, these sectors do not provide sufficient wages to pull people out of poverty, which results in the growth of non-official, non-structured economic activities. Consequently, there has been a growth in marginal and low-productivity businesses as well as migration rates to cities, especially during periods of drought and declining crop yields.

In light of the public sector's weakened ability to employ the population, the private sector could not absorb the increased number of job seekers. This is due to a lack of incentives, weak laws and a "lack of enthusiasm" on the part of university graduates. Many would prefer not to work in the private sector due to the lack of social protection they face in this domain. In the private sector, the only protection for workers is that emanating from international agreements.

The study illustrated how the region has remained below the minimum acceptable volume of work relative to its population. In the MENA region, this ratio stands at 43.6%, whereas the international average is 60.3%. The situation of the youth seems to be getting even worse as economic performance has declined since the Arab Spring.

Weak Governance

The region’s weak economies are a direct cause of the high unemployment rates. Other causes are poor governance, the mismanagement of resources and the inability of the education system to meet the needs of the market.

The study also noted that productivity in the Arab region increased by 22% over the past two decades, compared to 356% in East Asia. It mentioned that these numbers are likely to fluctuate in coming years, thus limiting job opportunities, potential for wage improvement and the fight against poverty. This constitutes a significant challenge for the region, where 45% of the population is under 16 years of age.

In the MENA region, 11% of GDP was spent on health and-insurance programs. Meanwhile, a large segment of the population does not benefit from health or social welfare services — some states spend as little as 2.5% of their budgets on healthcare services.

High demographic growth and rural migration have contributed to the social burden faced by several successive governments. These governments face the task of providing new job opportunities while addressing budget deficits.

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Found in: unemployment, poverty, mena region, job opportunities, arab spring, arab
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