There is more to unemployment than the simple fact of not having a job. It brings with it a whole set of additional difficulties, and on a large scale can have far reaching social consequences. This is especially true for young people struggling with a lack of stable employment and weak prospects for landing any permanent work. Jobs are an important source of social identity, and without one, young people can be cast adrift.
On Monday, September 17th, I had an online chat with a number of youth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region on the topic of jobs and employment. I received hundreds of comments and questions before the chat, interacted with tens during an hour and a half and kept receiving comments and questions for two days after the chat. The process had a deep impact on me. It was refreshing, amazing, encouraging but also concerning.
I just finished our live chat on jobs in the Arab World – thank you so much everyone for contributing, commenting or just listening in. What was most impressive was the joint search for answers, the dialogue blossoming among participants; it wasn’t “just” questions and answers, but a true dialogue. Now, I promised you all that I would take what I heard and use it when I meet finance ministers and other high officials during the World Bank’s Annual Meeting. So here is what I heard.
Employment is a critical issue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and our live web chat on the issue drew participants from all over the region. The dialogue was engaging, with questions and comments coming from as far afield as Egypt, Lebanon and Kaserine, in Tunisia’s interior.
High unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) largely reflects the growth deficit. While China has been growing at 10 percent for a decade and has unemployment below 5 percent. MENA is the mirror image, growing at 5 percent and suffering unemployment above 10 percent. The absence of strong growth in MENA has been a serious constraint to employment. It's worth noting though that MENA’s employment situation is not accurately described by the jobless growth that has plagued much of the industrial world in recent years.
In December 2010, the Arab Spring began with a call for a change, which ended up becoming a reality in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The restoration of justice is now a priority focus in all these countries. In the minds of many citizens, justice means the return of funds looted by officials over decades of high-level government corruption. The tenor of recent news reports shows that throughout the region, the public’s patience for the process is wearing thin.
I just arrived back in Sana’a from Riyadh. I want to take this time to share with the Yemeni people, young and old, men and women, what was achieved at the donors meeting there. While most of the media reports over the last few days focused on the generous pledges by donors, which reached US$6.4 billion, I want to tell you about the commitments made by the government and the international community to make sure this money reaches you - all of you - quickly, transparently, and efficiently.
Unemployment, cronyism, bad governance and lack of transparency and accountability were factors that have contributed to the Arab Spring. However, worries over employment stem beyond the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the challenges facing southern Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal and other troubled EU economies. A Gallup poll provides a global perspective on this issue
Recent events across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have underscored the urgent need to ensure job creation and an enabling environment for a young and better-educated, more skilled labor force. The international economic crisis has further deepened the problem in a region that is characterized by the world’s highest youth unemployment rate and the lowest female labor force participation.
I am on my way to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for a meeting next week with a diverse range of government representatives and members of global development organizations that will focus on a single subject: a stable and prosperous future for Yemen, and how to achieve it. It will be an opportunity for a broad cross section of the international community to discuss with the transitional government the many challenges the country faces.