The problem of youth unemployment in Jordan
As Jordan and other developing countries struggle with growing youth populations and limited job opportunities, experts and officials say that solving the problem of youth unemployment is among the Kingdom’s top policy challenges.
The World Bank’s 2013 World Development Report on Jobs, available on the World Bank website, indicates that unemployment rates in Jordan in 2010 reached over 22 per cent among young men and over 45 per cent among young women in 2010.
The problem is not limited to the uneducated, either; official statistics show that over half of unemployed Jordanians in their early 20s have completed at least a secondary education.
At a conference in September on creating job opportunities in the Arab region, former labour minister Atef Obeidat said that of the 50,000-odd individuals who graduate from the Kingdom’s universities each year, only half find jobs.
While regional and global trends come to bear on this problem, Shereen Mazen, programme manager at the local NGO Labour Watch, said that Jordan’s economic policies and development strategies over the past few years had exacerbated the rise in unemployment among the younger generation.
“Some economic policies adopted in Jordan over the past few years have badly affected the middle class. This has resulted in high rates of unemployment, regression in living conditions and an increase in the number of working poor,” Mazen said.
“There is a lack of coordination between the needs of the market and majors taught at universities. There is also a tendency to rely on foreign labour instead of employing locals.”
Hamada Abu Najmeh, the secretary general of the Ministry of Labour, said that the youth unemployment problem was not unique to Jordan and that policy makers were working to address the issue.
“Youth unemployment is a universal problem,” he said. “Even developed countries are facing this challenge. Since we launched the national strategy for employment, we have been working to solve this problem, especially among youths and women.”
Abu Najmeh said that the ministry aimed to boost employment by encouraging employers to recruit Jordanians rather than guest workers.
“Through our strategy, we have worked with employers in certain sectors such as hotels, restaurants and gas stations who tend to employ foreign nationals rather than Jordanians,” he said.
“We have increased the fees for recruiting foreign nationals, so that employers consider taking on Jordanian staff. We are also in the process of signing agreements with these employers mentioned above to ensure that they recruit Jordanians,” he added.
According to the World Bank report, recent political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East indicates that regional youths are dissatisfied with their employment prospects, and that training and counselling could do little to calm their frustration.
Mazen pointed out that the number of protests by unemployed young people had increased in Jordan over the past year.
“Since the beginning of 2012, there have been some fifty protests by unemployed youths, especially in the southern part of the Kingdom: Tafileh, Karak, Maan and Aqaba. In some cases, protests turned into riots and the Gendarmerie intervened,” she told The Jordan Times.
Mazen also attributed an increasing number of suicides in southern governorates to unemployment.
“This year, we noticed an increasing number of cases of suicide, with six in Karak and 12 in Aqaba, including some cases of group suicide,” she said.
The report cited workers at garment factories in Jordan complaining of physical stress due to overwork including thirst, hunger and severe exhaustion.
Some 37 per cent of factory workers reported concerns about dangerous equipment, whereas 45 per cent reported concerns over work hazards.
In response to these figures, Mazen emphasised that creating jobs is only part of the solution: Employers must also ensure that their employees’ working conditions are satisfactory.
“We must ensure that people are paid enough to cover their living expenses and that they receive health insurance and social security,” she said.
The latest figures from the Department of Statistics (DoS) indicated that unemployment stood at 11.6 per cent for the second quarter of 2012.
According to the DoS, unemployment mainly affects young people, as 25.6 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds are unemployed, 52.7 per cent of whom hold a secondary certificate or a higher level of education.
The DoS figures also indicate that unemployment affected women disproportionately, with the jobless rate standing at 17.8 per cent among women compared with 10.1 per cent for men.
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