Youth employment issues pose a threat to Egypt’s democratic transition. Persistent high unemployment rates among youth, the increasing deterioration of the quality of jobs available with no social protection and the growth in employment informality are central policy challenges in Egypt.
The concern about unemployed youth has long stemmed from the potential political volatility of this group. In post-January 25 Egypt and amid the ensuing economic stagnation, the unemployment rate in the age group 20-24 reached 33 percent in September 2011, according to Egypt’s central statistical bureau, CAPMAS. Almost one in three young people in this age group is unable to find work. Among those aged 15-19, the unemployment rate is a high 24.4 percent.
The unemployment rate in Egypt is much higher than the global youth unemployment rate of 13 percent as recently reported by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Research has repeatedly shown that unemployment in Egypt is primarily a problem of youth insertion to labor market. This explains the fact that unemployment rates are highest at points of school to work transition. Young women are at a particular disadvantage in Egypt’s labor market. The unemployment rate among female youth aged 20-24 years is 52.8 percent (compared to 33% among male youth). While most unemployed male youth eventually find work, most young women move out of the labor force in conjunction with marriage and childbearing.
However, unemployment is not the only problem in Egypt’s labor market. There are two main issues that unemployment figures fail to capture. The first is what is termed by the World Bank as “joblessness.” By definition, the unemployed are those not working for at least one hour per week and are available for work and actively searching for a job. Statistics on joblessness include young people who have given up searching for a job due to limited opportunities. This group of “discouraged” youth is significant and is particularly high in rural areas in Egypt. Many young people have given up looking for work upon realizing that the search does not lead to employment. Analysis of recent survey data on Egypt’s youth shows that the joblessness rate among young people aged 15-29 reaches 60 percent. This means that almost two thirds of young people in this age group are not in school, or employed. Unemployment statistics, while significant, only refer to a sub-group within this large group of jobless youth.