Typical street scene in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (Photo: iStock)

Typical street scene in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (Photo: iStock)

IMF Survey: Students Spotlight Unemployment Issues in Mideast

March 31, 2010

  • Major economic priority for Mideast region is reducing youth unemployment
  • Discussion part of IMF program aiming to engage young people in region
  • Interactive event to be broadcast live on television, radio, internet

What to do about youth unemployment is expected to take center stage when a diverse group of students from the Middle East and North Africa meet with IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on April 4 for a town hall meeting to discuss key issues facing the region.

Students Spotlight Unemployment Issues in Mideast

Reducing youth unemployment in Middle East calls for both sustainable growth, labor market reforms (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


About 50 students from the Middle East and North Africa will take part in the discussion to be broadcast live via BBC Arabic on television, radio, and the internet.

The broadcast (to run from 1506 to 1630 GMT, or 1806 to 1930 in Jordan) is intended to be an exchange of views with the next generation of leaders on the economic challenges facing the region. The program is the next step in the IMF Middle East Youth Dialog, which aims to engage young people across the region to help define forward-looking policy solutions. First and foremost among these challenges is reducing youth unemployment, which calls for both sustainable growth and labor market reforms in the Middle East.

Rapid population growth

“With youth unemployment in the Middle East among the highest in the world, the region is an ideal launching ground for this new initiative,” Strauss-Kahn said. “The region’s fast population growth makes it imperative to generate productive and sustainable jobs that will meet the aspirations of tomorrow’s workforce.”

In the first stage of the dialog, roundtable discussions between economics students and IMF staff were held at universities in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates over the past month. From those sessions, 24 students were selected to travel to Amman to participate in the broadcast. In addition, the other students from the University of Jordan also have been invited to attend.

“At the roundtable discussions, many students identified the need to reduce unemployment and poverty, and improve education systems as economic policy priorities for their countries,” said Masood Ahmed, Director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department . “Good macroeconomic and financial management lays the basis for the sustained growth that can help to address these concerns. The IMF is working with countries in the region in finding innovative and country-specific solutions to enhance growth prospects.”

Broader audience

The roundtables and BBC town hall are just a few of the steps in a process of IMF outreach to young people across the Middle East and North Africa. The interaction also is centered on an online forum that enables a broader audience of young people to communicate with each other and IMF staff on their visions for their economic futures. The website—in Arabic, English, and French—offers discussion boards, videos, accounts of the university roundtables, and many other features, which the region’s young people are now using.

During the April 4 town hall, the students will be asked to raise questions with Strauss-Kahn on many of the same issues. The BBC moderator also will take questions by telephone and e-mail from other young people viewing the program, which will be broadcast in Arabic.

The economic problems facing young people in the Middle East and North Africa are particularly important because of demographic trends that are resulting in a rapid increase in the region’s youth population. By one estimate, the region’s work force is projected to reach 185 million in 2020, 80 percent higher than in 2000. But employment growth has lagged far behind the demands of growing populations, a problem only heightened by the impact of the global financial crisis.

According to the January 2010 IMF World Economic Outlook Update, growth in the region plummeted to 2.2 percent last year from 5.3 percent in 2008, and it is projected to recover to only 4.5 percent this year. So the task of overcoming youth unemployment has become more difficult.