The majority of young people in the Levant still see the provision of jobs as the responsibility of government, new research has found, despite efforts across the region to move away from a reliance on the public sector for employment.
The Arab Youth Survey, which questioned 3,300 young people across the region on a range of topics, was released this week. It found that 71 per cent of young people in in the Levant – which includes Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories – think that it is the government’s role to create jobs. And just over half, at 56 per cent, said the rising cost of living was the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East.
In Jordan, where the civil service, military, security and government bodies employ 55 per cent of the workforce, such expectations are commonplace. But with the economy in trouble, the authorities are trying to cut back on hiring despite a record 18.6 per cent unemployment rate.
The country's Civil Service Bureau, which handles applications for government jobs, has an employment waiting list that for many positions now exceeds 10 years.
“I applied for a government job and so did my husband, just to see what would happen. But it is like playing the lottery,” said Suhair Showara, 26, who works at a garment factory – with her husband – that is half an hour away from their village in central Jordan.
“We knew the government is not hiring and we couldn’t afford to wait our entire life. So, we went to work elsewhere.”
The factory work provides the couple with a higher salary than a government position. They have both been promoted to the role of supervisor and say they are thrilled to be doing well in a career they would never have considered if the government had not cut back on hiring.
The monthly salary a government job provides is not enough to live on, many say, in the face of rising living costs. Yet it is the social support and stability they offer the employee and their family that lead many to still seek positions.
Abu Hamzeh, 32, who did not want to use his full name, works at the Amman Municipality, but has also taken on a second job as an Uber driver during the afternoons and evenings.
He says his municipality wage is JD400 (Dh2,000) a month, but that he can earn the same sum again in almost half the time in his secondary job. He said that he needs both salaries to be able to afford rent, schooling costs and utilities for himself, his wife and his three children.
“You could live comfortably on one salary before, send your kids to university and plan for retirement. Now you need two or three jobs to afford to live in Amman,” he said.
While it was once seen as shameful for Jordanians to work in private-sector jobs such as the service industry, they are now taking up positions as baristas, petrol station attendants or waiting on tables in growing numbers to pay for university or a wedding.
Yet Abu Hamza still prizes his job at the municipality, through which he can access benefits such as health care and parental leave – benefits that Uber, or other private employers, often do not offer.
“If there were strong international companies and organisations offering benefits like those offered in the US, Europe and the Gulf, we would prefer to work there,” he said.
“But in Jordan you either work for the state, or you and your family are left unprotected, without a backbone.”
There are other reasons for Jordanians seeking government roles, too – a lack of development. With more business concentrated around Amman, those from villages and towns must leave home if they are to find employment.
"There are no factories or industry where we live – either we work for the state (for a ministry, army or police) or leave our family behind [to look for workin] the capital," said Mohammed Qablan, 22.
In February, dozens of unemployed men from the southern cities of Maan, Aqaba and Karak marched to the capital to demand that the government find them employment.
“We are not looking for handouts or for six-figure salaries, we just want to know that our children will be taken care of and have a secure future,” said Mr Qablan’s father, Suleiman.