Arab youth jobs crisis deepens on low growth

Huge rise in jobseekers in next decade and recovery in MENA region may not be enough to cut unemployment among young people.

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MARRAKECH // One hundred million young people will enter the jobs market over the next decade in the Arab region compounding unemployment among youths, which is already the highest in the world.

More than a quarter of Arabs under 29 have no job and the region's economic performance after the global recession is making the problem worse.

"Over the next 10 years, 100 million young people will enter the job market. Most of them will be ill-equipped to compete for jobs and the economies are not creating them anyway," said Soraya Salti, the regional director of INJAZ, an educational charity based in Jordan.

Economic growth in the MENA region is expected to reach about 5 per cent next year, higher than in developed nations that were worst hit by the recession but still below the rate needed to absorb the region's young jobseekers. The region now has only 54 million jobs.

"The global economic slowdown could ignite a new jobs crisis in the Middle East," according to a recent paper produced by the Middle East Youth Initiative, a joint project of the Dubai School of Government and the Wolfensohn Centre for Development at the Brookings Institution, which is based in Washington.

"The current downturn coincides with demographic pressures reaching their historic high, placing an unprecedented strain on the labour market."

Masood Ahmed, the director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia Department, told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Marrakech that Arab economies needed to grow at least 6.5 per cent a year to cut unemployment.

But Ms Salti said it was not just a problem of demographics. There was also a skills and education crisis across the Arab world.

Half of Arab youths expect their government to give them jobs. This figure is even higher in the oil-exporting economies of the Gulf, with 66 per cent of youths in the UAE and 60 per cent of those in Saudi Arabia looking to the government for employment, she said.

If they do not find jobs, they blame the government. "You have a marginalised, disgruntled, idle generation that they call the 'waiting generation' because they are waiting for jobs," Ms Salti said.

"They are already blaming governments. Of course, not in all countries. Some countries, like Qatar, Kuwait and UAE, are employing their youth. But the rest are not because they don't have the budgetary resources."

Unemployment can also contribute to social and political upheaval, with large numbers of dissatisfied young people turning to extremist ideology as a response.

Many of the unemployed Arab youth did not find work even in the boom years before the financial crisis because they lacked the skills required by the private sector.

In the short term, job losses in Europe may push more skilled professionals to the Gulf. But over the longer term, Europe is expected to create a huge number of jobs for immigrants because population growth there will not keep pace with the economy.

Recruitment experts expect Europe to need 50 million new workers over the next decade.

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