Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Youth Unemployment In The Middle East

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Inequalities And Vulnerable Contexts

Podcast: Solutions to youth unemployment in the Middle East

Young people continue to face a host of challenges in the region – especially those living in poverty or in rural areas refugees, displaced, migrants, girls and young women and people with disabilities who are more likely to be out of school and left behind.

According to UN data, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the region already had more than 14 million children out of school and one of the lowest rates of return to education in the world. Furthermore, the pandemic has deepened the education crisis and widened existing inequalities.

Low Productivity Of Workers

The table printed above provides other startling data. While GDP in MENA registered an annual increase of 5.5 percent in 1993-2003, which is the second highest in the world, productivity, which measures how efficiently resources are used, increased by about 0.1 percent annually during the same period which is better only than sub-Saharan Africa, which registered negative productivity. It is only one-tenth of world average productivity increase of a little more than 1 per cent per annum.

MENA is the only region where productivity has not moved in tandem with GDP. The explanation for this unusual pattern is that the GDP growth was fueled primarily by the increases in oil revenues accompanied, according to the ILO report, by “stagnant productivity.” It is a perfect example, the ILO says, of why in the long term, “decent employment creation and productivity growth have to go hand in hand with GDP growth. Only then will economic growth lead to poverty reduction.” By contrast, East Asia has managed to benefit from “the virtuous cycle” of productivity growth, employment generation, and GDP growth.

Young People In The Middle East Struggle To See A Promising Future

The Middle Easts population is growing almost twice as fast as the world overall, and one-third of its people are under the age of 15.

As Joe Biden takes his first trip to the region as president, he plans to focus on the prospects for peaceful international relations. A key factor often overlooked is the Middle Easts lack of opportunities for young people.

As a scholar who has spent almost 20 years studying conflict, migration and youth in the Middle East, I believe their frustration could ultimately lead to an international crisis way beyond the borders of the region.

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Youth Employment In The Middle East And North Africa: Revisiting And Reframing The Challenge

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

In the early 2000s, youth in the Middle East and North Africa region became a focus of intense research and policy discussion. At the time, the region had the highest youth population shares in the world, as well as the highest rates of youth unemployment.1, 2 These two factors generated a sense of urgency among policymakers regarding the need to create enough jobs to absorb the incoming flux of young workers.3 However, despite concerted policy efforts, by 2010, the region had failed to improve employment outcomes for its youthful population. Youth frustration grew over their social, economic, and political exclusion, exploding in 2011 into protests across the region.

Youth Unemployment Patterns In Mediterranean Countries

Youth Unemployment: The Middle East

Youth unemployment is one of the major challenges the world is facing at present. At all levels, awareness is being raised on the arduous situation young people are facing. Data lend support to the premonitory signs of alarm: according to the International Labour Organization , almost 74 million young people are unemployed, constituting around 37% of the total global unemployed. Though recent trends point to a slight decrease in youth unemployment, the fact is that overall, two in five economically active young people are still either unemployed, or working yet living in poverty.

Prospects for Mediterranean countries are not encouraging. In southern Europe, the global financial crisis has left a legacy of high unemployment and underemployment, with disproportionate effects on young people. There is a significant gap between European countries that have low youth unemployment rates and southern Europe . There is also widespread job precariousness among those young people who do have a job. And, a new class of young working poor is emerging.

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A Rapidly Changing Situation

The region encompassing the Middle East and North Africa is diverse economically, geographically, historically, politically and socially, and often fraught with tension. Most of the major armed conflicts in the last decade have occurred there apart, obviously, from Russias invasion of Ukraine.

Since the pro-democracy protests and uprisings of the Arab Spring in 2010, the region has experienced some sort of significant conflict in eight of its 21 countries: Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

In addition, the regions population is growing at a much faster rate than the global average and has been since the World Bank began keeping records in 1961. Its people now number over 450 million, up from 300 million in 2001.

And North Africa And The Middle East

The economic consequences of youth unemployment go well beyond the waste of human capital. Indeed, as is well known, young people are often the most innovative group

Strengthening framework conditions for economic growth, stimulating investment and spurring regional integration are therefore of paramount important for boosting demand and job creation. Also, these countries require an overhaul of their education systems and a new partnership with enterprises with a view to tackling skills mismatch. The establishment of well-functioning apprenticeship pathways may be an interesting way forward in this regard.

The National Employment Strategy of Morocco, though still in an early phase of implementation at the national level, is a case in point. It focuses on the labour market problems of youth and women through a broad range of economic, employment and social measures. Importantly, it has been discussed extensively with social partners and involves key ministries, notably finance, employment and social affairs, and education.

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Youth Unemployment In The Middle East Causes Radicalization

Founder, Human Rights Action Center

Following the recent ISIL attacks, which ripped through Brussels with devastating impact, we are left mourning the loss of innocent lives, a situation growing all too familiar. Within in this process of mourning is the media circus that surrounds such tragic acts of senseless aggression.

In the aftermath of last year’s attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, the media heavily focused on ISIL’s ability to recruit foreign fighters. Although the media’s focus is justifiable, foreign fighters pose the most direct threat to the West we have largely neglected to understand ISIL’s recruitment process in the Middle East. Without a comprehensive understanding of ISIL’s ability to recruit the Middle Eastern population to their cause, our attempts to end their operation will remain too narrow and continue to be undermined by the economic factors at play in the Middle East.

A lack of employment opportunities factored into the violence that erupted across the region. The British Council reports that support for the uprising have diminished since 2012. Only 38% of young people feel the Middle East has seen improvements since the uprising meanwhile, 39% believe that democracy will never become a reality in the region. As young people continue to face heavy unemployment rates, they have grown more desperate to find economic stability.

Identifying Opportunities To Fill The Youth Unemployment Gap

Jordan youth unemployment rises to almost 40 percent

11 June, 2019

Demographic and social change have driven both prosperity and instability across much of the Middle East1. Rapid population growth has contributed to growth in economic activity and opportunities in the region, but has also strained public resources, sometimes slowed growth in GDP per capita, and increased unemployment rates2.One concern that has arisen out of this dynamism is the rise in youth unemployment. Across the MENA region, there is a large amount of untapped talent and potential, but employment opportunities remain scarce for young workers. Global youth unemployment rates have risen steadily between 1991 and 2018 from 9.3% to 12.8%3. Over this same time period, the Middle East youth unemployment rates have consistently been double that of the global average and stood at 26.1% in 2018 .

Chart 1: Youth unemployment rates in MENA and globally

Chart 2: Estimated gains to GDP from decreasing youth unemployment rates to global average

Many countries in the region have recognized that the private sector – rather than the public sector – must be where the jobs of the future are created. This has pushed youth unemployment to be an area of focus in several of the national agendas and visions in the region, including KSA Vision 20306, Jordan 20257 and Oman Plan 20408.

1. Education reform

2. Apprenticeship and internship programs

Looking forward

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And A Threat To Social Cohesion And Political Stability

Youth unemployment also represents a major challenge to social cohesion. It is a factor of social inequalities. In a number of Mediterranean countries, young people from high-income families enjoy easier access to quality education and good jobs than their low-income counterparts. And the situation has tended to deteriorate. This breaks the basic social pact that used to govern these countries, and, furthermore, a lack of decent jobs also hampers social mobility, thus weakening that social pact. For a number of years, low- and middle-income families believed that their children would benefit from improved living standards. However this is less and less the case, fuelling discontent. The fact is that there is an empirical relationship between social unrest and youth unemployment.

Even among young people who do work, the employment situation is increasingly precarious. In most Mediterranean countries, the incidence of temporary work, informal arrangements and atypical forms of employment are high and growing . The result is that young people, even among those who work, are not able to borrow and invest in housing, leading to considerable frustration all the more so because housing ownership is an important aspiration in the region.

There is not enough recognition of the perverse consequences of youth unemployment in Mediterranean countries

Tackling Youth Unemployment And Stemming The Brain Drain Is An Urgent Task For The Arab World

Despite a December 2021 ministerial decree that partially lifted a ban on Palestinian refugees working in union-regulated professions, Palestinians access to employment in Lebanon remains very limited. Young people from Palestinian communities often find themselves deprived of economic opportunities or forced to work informally. Pictured here, a young man works at a bakery in a Palestinian camp in Beirut, 18 February 2022.

Despite a December 2021 ministerial decree that partially lifted a ban on Palestinian refugees working in union-regulated professions, Palestinians access to employment in Lebanon remains very limited. Young people from Palestinian communities often find themselves deprived of economic opportunities or forced to work informally. Pictured here, a young man works at a bakery in a Palestinian camp in Beirut, 18 February 2022.

My job currently consists of looking for a job. I spend every day looking for companies who are hiring, says Nour Shaheen, a 24-year-old Palestinian university graduate. Two years after finishing her Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Al-Quods Bard College in East Jerusalem, Nour is one of millions of young people in the Arab world who cannot find a job.

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High Rate Of Unemployment In The Arab Countries

Ahmad Gowaili, secretary-general of the Arab League Economic Unity Council, referred to an unemployment rate of 20 percent in the Arab countries. According to Gowaili, this percentage is translated into 22 million unemployed, of whom 60 percent are youth. This figure, he added, is likely to increase by three percent annually. He attributes the main cause of unemployment to the failure in most Arab countries to link educational orientation to the labor market requirements.

And Across Them Notably Through Coordination Action In The Mediterranean Region

Youth Unemployment: The Middle East

There is significant scope for enhancing policy coordination in mutual learning across Mediterranean countries, as part of a broad youth employment strategy. This is not only because there are similarities among countries in the nature of labour market imbalances, but also because acting together will magnify benefits compared to countries acting in isolation.

Strengthening framework conditions for economic growth, stimulating investment and spurring regional integration are of paramount importance for boosting demand and job creation

For instance, there could be grounds for a coordinated youth guarantee programme in North Africa. By pooling resources some of them funded from the donor community and the African Development Bank for example and implementing a youth guarantee in a coordinated manner, these countries could usefully supplement other national policies. The EU has recently embarked on a similar exercise, which may explain the slight reduction in youth unemployment over the past year or so.

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What Do We Know What Is The Way Forward

Imed Drine

Many observers see youth unemployment as the major reason behind the recent popular uprisings in a number of Arab countries. Increasing unemployment over the past two decades has led to frustration among young people, especially among university graduates. Frustration among unemployed youth spilled out into the streets at the beginning of 2011, leading to rebellion against the existing political regimes in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. A series of disorders and strikes have exacerbated the situation, and reduced prospects for a rapid economic recovery. The unemployment crisis is aggravated by low capital flows and a sharp decline in exports which result from the slowdown in investment and growth in the economies of the regions main trading partners. The situation for many countries is further complicated by a sharp contraction in employment opportunities in Europe as well as the Gulf countries, a consequence of the global economic crisis. Finding new job opportunities in the MENA region is now more pressing than at any other time in the past. The problem is naturally worst in those countries where the risk of increased poverty is most prominent.

Unemployment: a real challenge for MENA region

The persisting trends of youth unemployment

Youth unemployment rates by region

Unlike most regions, unemployment rates in the MENA region are highest amongst the more educated youth.

Youth and adult unemployment

Youth unemployment by education

A way forward

Ifc Helps Provide Job Skills To Mena Youth

With youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa hovering at close to 25 percent, IFC is ramping up its efforts to equip the region’s young people with the skills and education in demand by employers.

It is doing this through the E4E Initiative for Arab Youth. A joint investment and advisory effort, it supports programs that prepare students for work in booming fields like tourism, healthcare, information technology, retail, and construction.

As part of the initiative, IFC recently held a conference in Marrakech, Morocco that brought together a range of international stakeholders, including government officials, private education providers, and corporate executives from companies like Microsoft.

They discussed ways to boost private investment in employment-driven education programs, and combat the stigma that surrounds vocational education and training.

“Right now, many youth across the Middle East and North Africa have degrees and diplomas, but they are often not the type that leads to jobs,” said Dahlia Khalifa, head of the E4E Initiative. “Employers are increasingly demanding a new set of skills, so it’s important to prepare young people for that work environment.”

The Morocco conference, dubbed the E4E Solutions Marketplace, served as launch pad for partnerships in the employment-driven education field. It followed a similar event in Dubai last year.

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Youth Unemployment Rate For Developing Countries In Middle East And North Africa


Data in this graph are copyrighted. Please review the copyright information in the series notes before sharing.

Units: Percent, Not Seasonally Adjusted

Frequency: Annual


Youth unemployment refers to the share of the labor force ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment .Nations that are included in this data series are listed at . A developing nation is defined as one which falls within the lower or middle income bracket.Source Indicator: SL.UEM.1524.ZS

Suggested Citation:

World Bank, Youth Unemployment Rate for Developing Countries in Middle East and North Africa , retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/SLUEM1524ZSMNA, November 20, 2022.

Working Poverty In Mena

Youth unemployment rate in Sudan surges

The ILO developed the concept of “working poverty” to cover those who work but do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the $1- or $2-a-day poverty line. In terms of $1-a-day and $2-a-day poverty data, the Middle East and North Africa fares much better than most other regions in the world. The report does indicate, however, that the incidence of working poverty is much higher in the non-oil producing countries than in the oil-producing countries. Nevertheless, to halve $1 a day working poverty by 2015, the GDP must grow at 4-5 percent a year. To halve the $2 a day working poverty by 2015, the GDP must grow by 8-10 percent a year. This rate of growth will not be easy to achieve without profound structural reforms in both the economy and polity of most countries involved, in particular the non-oil producing countries.

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Investing In Emerging Tech While Re

Between 2020 and 2040, some 127 million young people will enter the labour force in the Middle East and North Africa. EPA

Developing emerging technology while retooling education for the modern labour market, among other strategies, has the potential to reverse decades of youth unemployment in the Middle East, creating millions of new jobs and doubling the regions economic output, according to a new report from McKinsey.

When I was younger, opportunities for youth and a better economic future in the region were few and far between, especially for youth who grew up in lower-income parts of the region, said Khalid Aljihrish, a co-author of the report.

I was one of the lucky ones who had one of those few tickets to a brighter future. Even though many countries in the region, both through private and public initiatives, are undergoing impressive transformations today to broaden economic opportunities available to their youth, there is still much to be done.

Despite vast differences in political, economic and social conditions among nations in the region, youth unemployment remains a pervasive issue. Joblessness among young people in the Middle East and North Africa has been the highest in the world for more than 25 years,with young people often looking for years before finding work, a 2019 study from the Brookings Institution shows.

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