While the Arab world has sustained GDP growth of almost 5 percent a year over the decade 2000–10, a rate well above the OECD at 1.5 percent or the world average of 2.5 percent, a recent report by the International Finance Corporation/World Bank found that these achievements are undermined by the following alarming figures:
- The Middle East suffers from the highest youth unemployment in the world, currently recorded at over 25 percent, with North Africa reporting approximately 24 percent. Female youth unemployment is even higher, reaching and exceeding 30 percent across the Arab world.
- The region’s labor force youth participation rates are among the lowest globally, currently standing at around 35 percent, compared to the global average of 52 percent.
- The economic loss of youth unemployment exceeds US$ 40 – 50 billion annually across the Arab world, equivalent to the GDP of countries like Tunisia or Lebanon.
- The large number of youth in the Arab world will continue to add pressure on the labor market over the coming years – approximately a third of the total population is currently below the age of 15, and a further third is aged 15-29. In consequence, tens of millions of young people will enter the region’s work force over the next ten years needing to find jobs either at home or through regional labor mobility
Tackling the youth unemployment challenge will require a dual focus on creating employment opportunities, including self-employment, and ensuring youth have the right skills for the jobs being created. To date, governments in the region have not focused sufficiently on the latter.