Youth Population and Employment in the Middle East and North Africa: Opportunity or Challenge?

Type Working Paper - Population Reference Bureau
Title Youth Population and Employment in the Middle East and North Africa: Opportunity or Challenge?
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
One in five people living in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is between the
ages of 15 and 24, a demographic group called “youth.”2
The current number of youth in the region is
unprecedented—nearly 90 million in 2010, according to the UN estimates (see the map below). These
young people could become the backbone of strong economies and a vibrant future if they had the
right education, skills, and job opportunities. Yet, young people entering the labour force over the past
few decades have mostly faced tough job markets. So many have experienced persistent
unemployment that today, MENA’s unemployment has become a youth phenomenon. In Jordan in
2007, for example, when the country’s unemployment rate stood at 13 percent, three-quarters of the
unemployed were below age 30.i
And in Egypt, in 2006, well over 80 percent of the unemployed
were below age 30, and 82 percent of the unemployed had never worked befo ii re.
The youth unemployment rate for MENA as a whole stood at around 24 percent in 2009. The
rate was more than twice the 10 percent unemployment rate for all adults and the highest among
world regions, according to the World Bank.iii Youth unemployment and economic hardship are
directly linked to the political uprisings that began to sweep the region in late 2010. The infamous
Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian fruit vender who burned himself to death in protest in
December 2010, triggering the change of government in Tunisia and later in Egypt, symbolized the
frustration and humiliation of young people who lack decent jobs and who face widespread corruption
on daily basis that limits their ability to improve their lives. With their sheer numbers and increasing
frustrations, young people have become the force behind the historical uprisings in the region,
demanding change and seeking the affluence and openness enjoyed by their peers in other parts of the

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