Political Disorder and Wars Increase Unemployment in Yemen

A recent study has shown that the number of unemployed Yemenis increased in 2009 to almost 795 thousand from 731 thousand people in 2006, while the number of working age people had around 12.8 million.

The study, prepared by the National Director of the Labor Market Information Analysis Unit in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, Dr. Fadhl Ali Mothanna, showed that the volume of the labor force in Yemen has increased to 4.6 million workers of both sexes in 2009, compared with 3.7 million in 2006.

The study pointed out that the rate of the contribution by the population at work age in economic activity increased in 2009 to 42.2%, compared with 40.1% in 2006.

In many traffic circles in the capital Sana’a, hundreds of jobless, immigrant workers who come from different Yemeni regions looking for work sit idly, waiting for jobs. They loiter on curbs, hoping for someone will come and choose a group of them for work. Many of them have complained of not finding work.

Naji Shaghbah, an aspiring worker, said, “In previous years we used to come in groups looking for work, which we got quickly enough. We were able to earn a living through work in the city and return to the village. Now, however, weeks go by without any work and we have increased in number so much.”

This scene has become more common with Yemen’s increasing population, and the country is struggling to provide jobs for all those seeking jobs.

Around 206 thousand job seekers are expected to enter the labor market, according to the study, while the annual capacity of the private and government economic sectors was no more than 50 thousand people during the period from 2004 to 2006.

One of the reasons behind the increase is that there are too many specialized graduates for the number of jobs required in any given area of expertise, the study avers.

It went on to indicate that the unemployment rate has decreased to 14.6% by the end of 2009, by almost 2% since 2006, drawing attention to the fact that secondary school and university graduates are more susceptible to unemployment.

Unemployment among females has reached a staggering 46%, compared with a supposed 12% among males.

The study attributed the high unemployment rate among educated people, particularly high school and university graduates, to the unbalanced expansion of education and training and the weakness of technical sectors in creating work opportunities, while the non-technical sector assumes around 62% of all workers.

The findings stressed the necessity of expanding technical and vocational training with a particular focus on provinces and cities, where training is not typically offered.

To contain the high unemployment rate and bridge the gap between supply and demand in the labor market, the study recommends updating the curricula in universities and training institutes, increasing the amount of free training programs, and directing students toward applied sciences.

Work opportunities have not increased in Yemen due to the absence of investment and to the increase in security problems that have driven away projects that could have accommodated a growing labor force, according to Mr. Saleh al-Sanabani, Professor of economics at Sana’a University.

“The so-called Southern Movement in the south, the Houthis in the north, and Al-Qaeda contribute greatly to the high rate of unemployment and deprive the Yemeni labor force of many work opportunities with their destructive activities,” he said.

“They aim to harm the regime, but they really only harm the interests of the country,” al-Sanabani continued.

Muadh al-Zabidi, an unemployed computer networks graduate with an excellent academic record, thinks that corruption and the absence of good governance are the factors that have led to the emergence of the Southern Movement and al-Qaeda.

“If there had been good governance and no corruption in government, we would not have seen the Houthis or a Southern Movement,” he said.

“Unemployment is exacerbated by slow economic growth,” claimed Mustafa Nasr, Chairman of the Studies and Economic Media Center. “Economic growth is further impeded by the inefficiency of those who do have jobs, particularly in the public sector.”

Naser predicts that the year 2011 will be the worst year for employment over the past decade, due to the conflict in the north, unrest in some southern provinces, and the prevailing political tension. “War paralyzes the economy.”

“The conflict in Sa’ada has affected the status quo of Yemen’s economy, particularly in Sa’ada and the neighboring areas,” Yousof Al-Naqib, a human rights activist in the Yemeni Organization for Human Rights and Freedoms in Amran, claimed.

“The conflict between the Houthis and the government in Sa’ada, Amran and Al-Jawf has affected their economies and Yemen’s economy in general,” according to Saddam Al-Ashmori, National Yemen’s Amran correspondent.

“The war in Sa’ada and Amran completely paralyzed the economic activity in the city of Harf Sufyan, many people lost their jobs and businesses, and the situation there did not improve although more than two years have passed since the war stopped,” al-Ashmori said.

“Farmers in the Northern provinces used to smuggle their crops to Saudi Arabia where Yemeni agricultural products are banned, but since the sixth war broke out, Saudi Arabia has tightened security on its southern border,” he added.