World Economy

Jordan Growth Slows, Unemployment Rises

Jordan Growth Slows, Unemployment Rises
Jordan Growth Slows, Unemployment Rises

 Sabri Mashaaleh feels misled and angry. The 29-year-old studied counseling expecting to find a civil service job, in line with what used to be a typical life path for college-educated Jordanians.

Four years later, he’s still unemployed. His last hopes were crushed earlier this summer when troops tore down the tent in his small, remote hometown of Dhiban where he and other jobless young men had staged daily sit-ins for two months, demanding employment, AP reported.

With protests silenced, Mashaaleh sees a dark future for Dhiban.

The Dhiban unrest highlights what the Jordanian government now says is its biggest challenge— rising unemployment, particularly among the young, fueled by an economic slump and spillover from conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Youth unemployment is endemic in the troubled Middle East, where a demographic “youth bulge” has increased the number of jobseekers, including college graduates, while economies have stalled amid spreading violence.

Any destabilization of Jordan, possibly triggered by economic problems, would alarm the kingdom’s allies.

The government needs to take urgent action, said economist Omar Razzaz, who chairs a national team of experts trying to devise a new employment strategy. “We cannot afford to have the unemployment problem turn into a radicalization problem,” he said. “That’s the time-bomb we are facing.”

Economic growth in Jordan dropped from 3.1% in 2014 to 2.4% last year and 2.3% in the first quarter of 2016, according to the World Bank. Continued fighting in Syria and Iraq forced the closure of Jordan’s main overland trade routes in 2015 and also harmed tourism and construction.

  Lacking Quality, Quantity

Unemployment rose from 13% last year to 14.7% in 2016. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 35% have no jobs, said Lea Hakim, the World Bank’s country economist for Jordan. “The economy has not been generating enough jobs, not quantity and not quality jobs, for its population,” she said.

The influx of Syrian refugees since 2011 has further expanded the labor force. Jordan hosts some 660,000 registered refugees, though a recent census counted twice as many Syrians in Jordan, out of a total population of 9.5 million.

The kingdom agreed to issue work permits to tens of thousands of Syrians. In exchange, Europe eased trade restrictions to encourage investment in Jordan, while donors, including the World Bank, promised concessional financing and grants for development and labor-intensive projects in the country.

Ferid Belhaj, the World Bank’s regional director, said he expects this tradeoff to generate growth and jobs in three or four years. “The crisis is a huge challenge, but it can turn into an opportunity,” he told The Associated Press.