Saudi Arabia's unemployment rate drops in Q1 as more women join workforce

Overall figure dropped by 0.9 percentage points annually to 5.1 per cent in the first three months

Saudi job seekers talk to a company representative at Glowork Women's Career Fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
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Saudi Arabia's unemployment rate dropped on an annual basis in the first quarter of 2023 as labour market indicators in the kingdom improved, driven by more women joining the workforce, government data has shown.

The overall unemployment rate, which counts both Saudi citizens and expats, decreased to 5.1 per cent in the three months ended in March, from 6 per cent during the same period in 2022, the General Authority for Statistics (Gastat) said in its quarterly report on Thursday.

For Saudi nationals, the rate stood at 8.5 per cent in the first quarter, a decrease from 10.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2022.

The unemployment rate for Saudi women fell sharply to 16.1 per cent, from 20.2 per cent a year ago, while it reached 4.6 per cent for men, down from 5.1 per cent a year earlier.

"Compared to one year ago, key labour market indicators for Saudis improved, with rises in both the participation rate (up 2.3 per cent) and the employment-to-population ratio (up 2.9 per cent), while the unemployment rate declined," Gastat said.

Saudi Arabia has been working to diversify its economy away from oil with a number of government programmes to spur business and create jobs.

It ambitious Vision 2030 agenda plans to lower the Saudi unemployment rate to 7 per cent and boost the participation of women in the workforce.

The unemployment rate among Saudis stood at 8 per cent last year, and this is projected to fall further to 7.8 per cent by the end of 2023, Jadwa Investment said in an April report.

The growing economy has also boosted the labour force.

The kingdom's gross domestic product topped $1 trillion for the first time in 2022, hitting 4.2 trillion Saudi riyals ($1.12 trillion) as the economy grew by 8.7 per cent, Gastat said.

Business confidence in Saudi Arabia also continued to outpace long-standing average readings, with the headline Riyad Bank Saudi Arabia Purchasing Managers' Index reading standing at 58.5 in May, the lender reported earlier this month.

That was slightly lower than the 59.6 registered in April, but well above the neutral 50-mark that separates economic expansion from contraction and its long-running average of 56.9.

Hiring at companies in Saudi Arabia's non-oil sector increased at its strongest pace in about five years in December, driven by "robust” business activity, Riyad Bank said in January.

Saudi Arabia has also been ranked the 17th most competitive nation globally, the World Competitiveness Centre of the International Institute for Management Development said last week.

The kingdom placed second in a set of indicators that included, among others, unemployment legislation, and has been lauded by the IMD for its "capacity to adjust its policies in response to economic changes".

Saudi jobseekers used a variety of methods to search for openings in the first quarter, Gastat said.

The most popular methods were asking friends or relatives, used by 84 per cent of jobseekers, applying directly to employers (71.5 per cent) and using the Jadarat national employment platform (58.9 per cent).

Updated: June 29, 2023, 3:00 PM