Daunting challenges lie before the Arab-speaking workforce today. Forty million jobs must be created in the next decade to employ the region, home to the highest rate of youth unemployment – not to mention that many countries are still undergoing a period of political transition. The fundamental question about job creation now is where these countries should be headed and how they are getting there.
The topic of inclusive growth has captivated the minds of economists and politicians in the Middle East and North Africa for some time. The interest was there before the events of the Arab Spring and only intensified with the revolutions of 2011. But inclusive growth has eluded the countries of the MENA region.
Egyptians mark the second anniversary of their 2011 revolution on January 25. The revolution, which was in part fueled by unmet aspirations for economic mobility, highlighted the mass discontent of young people unable to find jobs that matched their expectations. The youth entering the labor force is more educated than in the past, but job opportunities have been shrinking.
As Arab countries mark the two-year anniversaries of their revolutions, economic challenges remain sharp, and the current political and policy uncertainty make it difficult to forecast how growth will evolve over the longer run. One way to reduce some of the guesswork is to look at what has typically happened in other transitions. In a recent paper, we identified and examined 90 attempts at transition from autocracy to democracy that took place over the last half century.
Tune in for the live streaming of a virtual knowledge sharing forum on the topic of jobs on January 16 and January 17 at 8:30 AM EST (3:30 PM Istanbul time). This is a unique opportunity for anyone interested in this issue to connect with experts and top-level practitioners with just a few clicks. Participate in the debate, ask questions and share your views!
The political transition in Egypt has gone through many phases, but the ability to deliver on the demand for bread, dignity, opportunity and social justice that epitomized the 2011 revolution will continue to stand as an arbiter of its ultimate success. This will be especially apparent in the distribution of economic opportunities and how they are shaped by public policies.
Although regional economic activity is expected to accelerate in 2012, growth is expected to retreat slightly in 2013. The single biggest risk to this forecast is prolonged political and policy uncertainty, which is a key constraint to private investment and trade, particularly trade in services, while political and social unrest are serious downside risks to the outlook.
“It’s messed up, I had to lose an eye to see things clearly” Alia said, shaking her head. My charismatic and confident classmate then carefully tucked her hair under her veil. “Bushwick Bill?” I asked. She smiled and showed off her perfect row of teeth. “Yes!” She seemed pleased, yet slightly embarrassed that I had noticed that she was quoting an old-school rapper.
Over the next decade, the Middle East and North Africa faces the challenge of creating 40 million jobs for its youth with an estimated 10.7 million new entrants expected to join the labor force. With nearly one in five people between the ages of 15 and 24, the region has one of the youngest populations in the world. Therefore, the employment response must be well above average to employ the current and future jobseekers.
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.