Unemployment: The paralysis of Lebanese youth
BEIRUT: Graduation season came and went, and many of those stepping out of college have already embarked on their job hunting journey.
For many, what lies ahead is an arduous task toward prosperity.
A statement released by the previous Labor Minister, Mohammad Kabbara, stated that the overall unemployment rate in Lebanon stands at 25%, with unemployment among those under 25 at 37%.
“We have approximately 30,000-35,000 young people who graduate from university every year and only 5,000 jobs are offered annually, which leaves some 30,000 without jobs,” he said.
Previously, young Lebanese would find employment in neighboring Gulf countries, however, today the situation is much bleaker.
According to the International Labor Organization, youth unemployment is on the rise globally, yet the rate in Arab states remains the highest.
Ali Haidar, a fresh graduate from the American University of Science and Technology, who has two degrees, one in Biomedical Engineering and one in Computer Communication Engineering feels hopeless after relentlessly looking for jobs for a whole year to no avail.
“I didn’t get one offer that pays over $700, and with Lebanon’s inflated economy I can’t afford to live a decent life on such a tiny salary,” he told Annahar.
Haidar is now considering opening up his own online clothing business.
“Online stores are currently booming, and people are now more willing to order things online and have them delivered to them while they’re in the comfort of their own homes,” he added.
Independent journalist and university instructor Baria Ahmar explained the struggle that her young students face after graduation.
“They're struggling with no hope, and are losing their self-esteem in the process,” she said.
Ahmar also noted that “in any other country, an unemployment rate that exceeds 35% among youth would lead to a revolution.”
A report released by the World Bank, titled "Jobs or Privileges: Unleashing the Employment Potential of the Middle East and North Africa (2014);” highlights the importance of the youth resorting to startups and international funding in case of dire economic conditions and unemployment.
Young firms and startups have become the engines of job creation in Lebanon. The report also indicates that micro-startups between zero to four years of activity and with less than four workers created around 66,000 jobs in Lebanon between 2005 and 2010.
Nour Hamadani, a graphic design student, remained unemployed for over two years after graduating with a degree in graphic design from the Lebanese University.
“I was depressed and upset most of the time during that period. However, a friend introduced me to the startup community, and slowly my horizons started expanding,” she told Annahar.
Hamadani insists that there are many funding opportunities for Lebanese youth who have good ideas and know how to pitch them to funders. She's now in the process of brainstorming her business idea that interlinks graphic design and tech.
Economist Bassam Hamdar warns of the dangers of brain drain when all means of youth finding employment in Lebanon have failed.
“When the smart and capable youth leave Lebanon in search of better opportunities, the country not only loses its workforce but also loses the brains capable of developing sustainable solutions for it,” he told Annahar.
Ali Akar, who hopped on to the first plane after graduating from university last year, insists that he didn’t have to think twice before migrating to Africa after graduating.
“If I stayed, I would never be able to have a high standard of living. How could I get married and sustain a living if salaries hardly ever exceed $1000 if one is lucky?” he said.
President Michel Aoun received backlash on social media last year after stating, during a meeting with a delegation from the Lebanese Press Syndicate at Baabda’s presidential palace, that Syrian refugees take the lower-paying jobs that the Lebanese refuse to take, thus resulting in more Lebanese unemployment.
Critics noted that those lower-paying jobs aren't enough to feed a single person, let alone a family.
“It’s outraging how they’re all quick to point fingers at Syrians and refugees instead of proposing solid solutions to the problems we're facing,” tweeted one user from an anonymous account.
Sociologist Alissa Chami told Annahar that unemployment rates are demotivating the youth and making them less ambitious and hopeful.
“When our young students and fresh graduates look around them, they see generation after generation filled with smart and educated youth who are unemployed. Most start feeling inadequate, and blame themselves and their abilities,” she said.
Chami further noted that the youth are handicapped by the high unemployment level, and that paralyzed youth can lead to a paralyzed state.