I’ve written about unemployment before here and here. The picture is just getting blearier. Saudi men are having trouble finding jobs with an unemployment rate of 10.5% and more than 449,000 open applications for government jobs in 2009. Compare that to 2008 in which the rate was 10% and the files 416,000 . As Abdulaziz Al Owashiq observed this is at a time when the economy is rising and yet the employment rate is going in the opposite direction. Another interesting observation of his is that the majority of those unemployed are those that should be the easiest to employ; 43% of the unemployed are between the ages of 20-24, 44% have at least a BA and 80% are single!
If that’s how bad it is for men can you imagine how tough it is for women? Now the numbers on women are so bad that the government won’t even acknowledge them.
Dr. Mona AlMunajjed in cooperation with Booz & Co did an extensive study on Saudi women unemployment rates and the reasons behind it. The report is in English and worth a read. An Arabic summary of this was published in local newspapers. The article included the findings that 1000 women PhD holders are unemployed, and it was this that was put as a header and that seemingly offended the government the most. Two weeks later the Ministry of Labour’s spokesperson came out denying that there were any jobless PhD holders and demanding an apology which Booz & Co generously provided. Dr. Adel Al Salah conducted his own investigation and unsurprisingly found that Booz & Co and Dr. AlMunnajjed had nothing to apologize for and that their study was legitimate. But nothing gets the Saudis all prickly like the news that citizens might actually be unhappy, especially women. We’re all queens and sheltered jewels.
Watani is a news organization which for the most part disseminates information to cell phone subscribers within the Kingdom and has only recently started a website. This organization is ultra-conservative and sporadically sends interesting insider information that is rarely published in regular Saudi media. Recently they have sent some of their own crazy numbers. On Tuesday 1st of June they sent a cell phone text reporting that the Ministry of Civil Service received no less than 11 thousand applications with fake male names or just initials that turned out to be sent by Saudi women applying for jobs offered to men only.
When it comes to the reasons behind all these miserable numbers, multifaceted is an understatement. The private sector is not interested in Saudis and it’s hard to blame them. As a business owner, would you rather have imported cheap labor who will literally live for your business in a little room you provide and work day and night, or a Saudi who will demand at least double the pay and half the hours? And then of course the culture does little to help the situation. Hard work is not regarded highly by Saudi society. Young Saudis aspire and look up to heirs who wake up at noon with jobs that consist of spending a couple of hours in a luxurious wood-paneled office signing forms. There’s not much respect for police officers, firemen, nurses or even small business owners. Above all many Saudis suffer from entitlement syndrome; the countless number of times I’ve heard “I’m a Saudi from so and so tribe, I can’t just take any job.” And when it comes to Saudi women, it gets even funnier. Because many will only accept on two conditions, they can only work until noon and they have to be paid as though they have a full-time job. Moreover the environment has to be gender-segregated. So if you are private sector you have to rent two locations or two sets of offices, one for men and one for women, that is if you want to employ women. The only exception is hospitals, clinics and extremely rare and untouchable companies in the major cities.