Lebanon laments lost youth
By: Zeinab Merhi
In Lebanon, generation after generation, people are leaving. 52 percent of those between 35 and 39 years old live outside the country – 59 percent of the men and 45 percent of the women.
The proportion of Lebanese emigrating is reaching the same level as the rate of natural population growth. This means that the number of the Lebanese living in the country will stop growing. We are losing the youth, and our society is heading toward old age.
Western societies, especially in Europe, are also heading in this direction. However, the problem is that the West achieved a lot before moving into retirement. But we have not been able to lift our society from its own problems, and now we are facing the loss of the youth, who are supposed to be the hope for change.
Are we out of hope?
"Our society is becoming like those in the Gulf," explains former minister Charbel Nahhas. "We are depending more and more on temporary foreign labor and Lebanon is becoming more and more specialized in non-sophisticated activities, which do not need much talent or investment. Attention to appearances is becoming a sickness here."
As usual, any attempt to find scientific facts in this country is faced with hurdles. First, of course, is the lack of official and reliable figures. According to Nahhas, only three surveys have been done on this particular issue, but some conclusions can be drawn from them.
The surveys, conducted by the Central Administration of Statistics (CAS), began with one on the labor force in 1970. The others were conducted in the mid-90s and 2004, both on the labor force and family budgets.
"We do not know how many people live in Lebanon and the number of Lebanese in the country," Nahhas explains. "We do not even know their ages or the percentage of those who are waged, compared to free professions."
"But from the little that we know, we can conclude that the proportion of youth migration is almost equal to that of new births," Nahhas continues. "Therefore, the number of Lebanese living in Lebanon will stop growing. In the past 10 years, the number of children in schools has stopped growing. It is actually on the decline."
"After a while, we will not need to build new schools and, thus, we will not need new teachers. This means that our workforce, those between 20 and 65, will not grow, unless, of course, if the percentage of working women increases. That is if the same behavior patterns persist," Nahhas adds.
Nahhas also indicates that immigration rates are higher among scientific and technical graduates. If this segment remains in Lebanon, will it be fruitful to continue their graduate studies in quantum economics, for example? Is it a justified choice?
The answer for Nahhas is no, especially for private university students. Their education means losing the income that would be made if one enters the economic cycle. Their parents are also paying their university fees, so they aspire to multiply the expected income through a graduate degree. But this does not happen in Lebanon, which means that the issue is not justified economically, unless the goal is to move abroad after graduation.
The strongest cause of emigration, according to Nahhas and as the studies have shown, is the difference between the actual purchasing power in Lebanon and countries of migration. Young people from Lebanon emigrate and are replaced by workers from poorer countries.
Nahhas explains that dependence on foreign labor was on the increase before the Syrian crisis. The Palestinians in Lebanon are not considered part of this segment, since they are settled with their families in the country and thus the purchasing power is the same as the Lebanese.
"[Immigrants] come into this country alone, not with their families and for a temporary period of time. Lebanon is witnessing a systematic and accumulated shift in the economic structure,” he says. “Professions and sectors such as construction, restaurants, private security, and the like are expanding. But this type of work does not require high proficiency, equipment, or much technical investment."
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