Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Unemployment And Underemployment Numbers For Iraq

The new quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) includes the latest figures on Iraq’s unemployment and underemployment rates. The national averages were 17.3% unemployment and 29.4% underemployment. That compares to a United Nations survey conducted in January 2009 that found 18% of those questioned out of work and 10% underemployed. The SIGIR report shows that joblessness and lack of steady employment are spread throughout the different provinces of Iraq with no real regional patterns, while the U.N. survey pointed out that the young are the worst effected.

The SIGIR broke down employment numbers by province. Wasit, Irbil, Baghdad, Tamim, and Qadisiyah had the lowest unemployment rates ranging from 13.6% to 15.9%. Dhi Qar, Muthanna, Salahaddin, Dohuk, and Ninewa on the other hand with jobless rates going from 20.9% to 36.5% did the worst. The top and bottom five showed that there was no real connection between region and employment. Northern Iraq for example, had both one of the best labor markets in Tamim, and one of the worst in Ninewa. Kurdistan, which has a much more stable environment than the rest of Iraq had 14.5% unemployment in Irbil, but 21.6% in Dohuk. The same was true for southern Iraq with Wasit and Qadisiyah at the top, and Muthanna and Dhi Qar at the absolute bottom.

Unemployment by Province July 2009
Wasit 13.6%
Irbil 14.5%
Baghdad 14.5%
Tamim 15.7%
Qadisiyah 15.9%
Babil 15.9%
Sulaymaniya 16.0%
Maysan 17.3%
Anbar 17.4%
Najaf 18.6%
Basra 18.8%
Diyala 19.0%
Karbala 19.1%
Ninewa 20.9%
Dohuk 21.6%
Salahaddin 21.9%
Muthanna 30.5%
Dhi Qar 36.5%
National Avg. 17.3%

That order didn’t quite hold up for underemployment. Wasit with the lowest jobless rate in Iraq had the highest underemployment at 51.4%. Irbil however with the second best labor market also had the lowest underemployment with 18.1%, while Muthanna was in the bottom five in both categories. The three Kurdish provinces tended to do better with underemployment than the rest of the country, but otherwise the problem was evenly distributed across the other regions of Iraq.

Underemployment By Province July 2009
Irbil 18.1%
Sulaymaniya 21.1%
Najaf 21.1%
Basra 21.6%
Dohuk 23.2%
Dhi Qar 25.8%
Tamim 26.0%
Salahaddin 27.1%
Baghdad 27.3%
Qadisiyah 27.3%
Karbala 31.1%
Diyala 31.9%
Maysan 32.9%
Anbar 33.3%
Muthanna 33.5%
Ninewa 37.5%
Babil 40.9%
Wasit 51.4%
National Avg. 29.4%

What is another pressing issue is the fact that the United Nations found that young people were the most likely to be jobless in a society facing increasing demographic pressure from that exact group. The U.N. survey reported that men between the ages of 15-29 had a 28% unemployment rate. They made up 57% of all the unemployed in Iraq. 26% of all women were without a job. They were also only 17% of the labor market. The U.N. said one of the major causes of this was the fact that the government, which provided 43% of all the jobs in the country, 60% of full time work, and was the largest employer in fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, preferred hiring older males. This in a society where 313,000 males turn 18 each year, and 38.8% of the population is 14 or under.

The overall employment situation would probably be even worse if the government hadn’t increased its hiring in recent years. Many state-run industries, for example have far more workers than needed. Reuters went to a power plant in Baghdad that was supposed to have 2,500 employees, but had hired 4,370. The Minister of Industry and Minerals in a July 27, 2009 interview said that because of this bloated work force, the average public employee only works two hours a day. This also distorts the labor market as everyone wants a government job because of its security, which means fewer people available for private business.

Iraq is still a state-run economy despite all the attempts by the Americans at reform. A whole range of structural and security issues hinders the private sector, and foreign investment, while increasing, is still very limited. All together that means that the government will play the determining factor in employment in the future. Unless the civil service diversifies its practices, that means an increasing jobless rate as more and more young people enter the labor market to no avail, which could lead to more unrest and greater dissatisfaction with Baghdad.


Abbas, Mohammed, “Iraq investors face bloated workforce dilemma,” Reuters, 8/10/09

Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraq’s Fracture Lines: Recidivism or Reassertion,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 7/28/09

Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Iraq Labour Force Analysis 2003-2008,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 2009

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/09


Left Coast said...

First of all let me say thanks for the blog. It's great and on my reading list each day. Keep up the good work.

I appreciate the story but add that these numbers act only as SIGIR and the UN's "best guess" and do not really give an accurate protrayal of the employment situation in Iraq. The numbers posted here are drawn from analysis of surveys collected by Iraq's Ministry of Planning and the Central Organization for Statistics and Information Planning, both of which use questionable methodology, so I would hesistate (which you did) to make any generalizations about the employment situation in Iraq based on these numbers.

It's funny to me that SIGIR and the UN would be so bold as to post numbers instead of ranges, and on top of that post decimals. Nothing in Iraq, especially economic indicators can be broken down to a decimal point.

Additionally I don't understand how one can come up with a plausible number without the ability to measure employment in the non-government, small business sector. It's difficult enough in the U.S., so I'm not sure how we can expect Iraqi institutions to measure this accurately.

My thought based on a review of statistics and anecdotal evidence is that the unemployment rate is somewhere in between the low 18% estimate and the higher estimates that have been put out by organizations such as the EIU and others.

In my opinion figures for underemployment are completely useless, especially in a war torn country such as Iraq.

Joel Wing said...

Thanks for the feedback. The SIGIR numbers are about the only hard stats on the subject that are available. Otherwise all you have to go on are anecdotal comments by officials and guesses, which usually say unemployment is as high as 50% sometimes. That being said stats are never sure, especially in a country like Iraq where there are lots of questions about surveys.

I've also had problems with the U.N. numbers. They recently released reports on each of Iraq's provinces and list unemployment for Iraq, for the province, and then for each district in the province. When you do the math however the unemployment numbers for the districts do not add up to the unemployment number for the province overall. Go figure.