Youth unemployment within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries can no longer be overlooked. The recently released Rethinking Arab Employment report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) exposes some facts and challenges relating to this burning issue.
At 8.1 per cent, 7.4 per cent and 5.6 per cent, unemployment rates are a concern in Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Conversely, at a mere 0.6 per cent, unemployment among nationals is a hardly a headache in Qatar.
To be fair, Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia had been experiencing general unemployment on a sustained basis for some time. In reality, socioeconomic challenges, and notably joblessness, was partly responsible for the outbreak of street protests in Bahrain and Oman in early 2011.
Reacting to the challenge, authorities in Oman announced plans for creating some 56,000 jobs, divided between 36,000 in the public sector and the rest in the private.
To their credit, Saudi authorities stand out for being notably transparent with regards to the unemployment challenge, with official statistics pointing out to higher rates than those published by the WEF. Undoubtedly, knowledge of the extent of the problem is a good starting point to explore possible solutions.
Government figures suggest total unemployment rate was at 11.8 per cent in the second quarter, up from 11.5 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2013, which is a worrying development.
Put another way, official stats considered some 657,000 Saudi nationals as unemployed in the first half of this year, up by 34,500 compared to the corresponding period in 2013. Sadly, this solely reflected the rising tide of unemployment among women, who in fact make up only 22 per cent of the labour force among Saudi nationals. The unemployment rates among women and men are 33.3 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. Conforming with official Saudi data, the WEF report notes that unemployment among young women is a serious challenge.
Yet, unlike Oman and Saudi Arabia, officials in Bahrain continue to depict a rosy picture of the unemployment challenge, claiming it to be around 4 per cent in the latest official data and considerably below WEF estimates.
The employment challenge becomes grimmer among the youth, who constitute the demographic majority of local populations throughout the GCC. The WEF report pays particular attention to unemployment among youth, and rates it as the most serious problem which needs tackling in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. Unemployment rates within this demographic stands at 27.8 per cent, 27.5 per cent and 20.6 per cent in these states.
Chronic youth unemployment undermines economic prospects. Certainly, it paves the way for authorities to realise that harnessing youth potential is a central tenet of all development models.
Conversely, Kuwait is the only GCC member state where unemployment is more of a problem with young men than women, ostensibly reflecting the socioeconomic and socio-political factors such as openness and tolerance.
Women, being among the academic achievers, can only benefit local economies from their presence. The overall employment challenge becomes only more complex when considering those who assume jobs which are below their qualifications or are working on a part-time basis.
The writer is a Member of Parliament in Bahrain.