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Youth Unemployment in North Africa and Middle East Driving Political Change

It's no news that unemployed young men are dangerous.

What's interesting is looking at the correllation between high rates of youth unemployment and political change.

Last August, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) issued a report documenting the severe impact of the global economic crisis on employment prospects for the world's youth. The ILO found that the 2008 financial crisis led to a rapid rise in youth unemployment on a global basis, with one out of ten previously employed people age 26 or younger becoming unemployed. Globally, youth unemployment rose from 11.9 percent to 13 percent during this period, the sharpest ever recorded by the ILO.

At the time, the ILO warned that governments which failed to address youth unemployment, even with expensive job and education programs faced "even more expensive" consequences "when the social, economic and possibly even political costs are added together" in response to a failure to act.

The ILO then broke down youth unemployment rates by region, finding that youth unemployment was lowest in Asia, where it averaged about 8% in East Asia and 9% in South Asia; somewhat higher in Southeast Asia at 15% and Latin America at 16%; worse yet in the most developed countries, nearly 18%; and over 23% in the Middle East and North Africa, the worst areas for jobs for young people in the world, not merely in recession, but consistently, for at least the decade previous. Moreover, in the Middle East and North Africa, young people were about four times as likely to be unemployed as older workers -- by comparison to 2.5 to one in the most developed countries.

In looking for locations of possible future revolution, perhaps the most salient statistic will be one in which high percentages of youth unemployment persist -- together with enough education and opportunity elsewhere in a society to provide a hint that there could be something better, if their government could just give them the means of getting there.

So, who remains ripe for change?

Youth unemployment in Bahrain, which has just seen its initial waves of protests, largely on sectarian lines, has been running at about 20%.

In Yemen, the overall unemployment rate is 30%. While youth unemployment is hard to estimate, some 70% of the country's population is under 26, and youth unemployment is said to be impressive, and by some estimates as high as 50%.
Libya also has a 30% unemployment rate overall, despite its $14,000 per capita GDP, suggesting that Mumamar Qaddafi's greatest failure was not his inability to keep foreigners and Al Qaeda from infecting Libyan youth, but his inability to provide them with jobs.

Then there is the Gaza strip, where overall unemployment is about 40% and some 56% for those under the age of 30.

It may be time for policy-makers, in affected countries and otherwise, to focus anew on the question of what it will take to produce enough jobs for enough people not only to produce needed goods and services for consumers, but the basics of political stability that is one consequence of young people being gainfully employed.

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