The longstanding challenge for the Egyptian economy of providing its workers with decent, formal, socially insured jobs has become even more difficult. As this column explains, informality has been rising rather than falling, with a substantial reduction in social insurance coverage for the employed since the late 1990s. Reforms are needed to reverse this decline.
A robust and high-quality care economy is critical for supporting women’s employment – as both an employer of women and a mechanism for redistributing unpaid care work to the market. Yet in Egypt, despite national goals of expanding care services, employment in the sector has been shrinking, while becoming increasingly privatised. As this column reports, care jobs have also experienced worsening conditions of work, including reduced formality and the emergence of a pay penalty for care workers.
After a decade of economic and political shocks, the newly available Sudan Labor Market Panel Survey of 2022 provides the first data on households and the labour market for over a decade. This column presents some of its key findings. The country continues to grapple with long-run labour market challenges, such as a high fertility rate, low school enrolment and limited labour force participation among women. After years of political turmoil, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic and recent internal conflict, it is vital that Sudanese policy-makers are able to make evidence-based decisions to help the country to prosper.
With Sudan experiencing numerous economic and political shocks over the past decade, a lack of labour market and household data has made it difficult for policy-makers to make evidence-based decisions. This column presents new nationally representative survey data, which have been long anticipated and are now publicly available: the Sudan Labor Market Panel Survey 2022.
Sudan’s labour market faced a number of challenges even prior to the pandemic. Economic difficulties, including rampant inflation, and political instability contributed to continuing under-utilisation of the country’s labour force during Covid-19; and employment continues to be primarily self-employment in agriculture. Political stability is a pre-requisite for addressing Sudan’s economic and labour market challenges.
At the onset of the pandemic, employment rates contracted sharply in North African countries. As the column explains, employment rates have generally recovered since then, but hours of work and incomes have not. Informal wage workers, farmers and the self-employed have faced a particularly hard struggle. In anticipation of future crises, the region requires a robust and shock-responsive social protection system.
While employment rates in countries in the Middle East and North Africa have largely recovered since the initial shock of the pandemic, wages and hours of work have been more variable in response to changing economic conditions. As research reported in this column shows, non-wage and informal wage workers have been particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of Covid-19.
Across the world, Covid-19 and associated policy measures that closed schools and nurseries led to increased care work for married women in households with young or school-aged children. But as research reported in this column shows, in the Middle East and North Africa, married women had already selected out of the types of work that were difficult to reconcile with care work, with the result that married women did not exit employment disproportionately during the pandemic.
Employment is recovering but income losses persist in MENA countries in the second year of the pandemic. Two recent ERF policy briefs summarised in this column illustrate the mix of recovery and ongoing challenges for households and firms.
The past decade has presented both new challenges and new opportunities for the Egyptian labour market. This column outlines the findings of a new book focused on the extent to which the country has been able to create good jobs for its growing population, as well as particular issues facing women and vulnerable groups in the world of work. The analysis draws on data from the latest Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey, conducted in 2018.
How are labour markets in the Middle East and North Africa performing a year into the pandemic? This column assesses the impact of the crisis on employment and earnings using data from the second wave of the ERF Covid-19 MENA monitor surveys in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. There are glimmers of progress but persistent problems in these four countries’ labour markets.
How is the Covid-19 crisis affecting jobs and business in the MENA region? This column reports evidence from mobile phone surveys carried out in November in Morocco and Tunisia. The results, reported in a new ERF Policy Brief, indicate that vulnerable workers, small entrepreneurs and farmers have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
The tough response by Jordan’s government to the global pandemic has protected public health but exacted a sharp economic toll in a country that was already struggling to cope with high youth unemployment and a huge influx of refugees from Syria. This column calls for an urgent international effort to assist the Jordanian government in ensuring a dignified future for vulnerable young people and refugees.
Internal migration has the potential either to improve or to hinder educational opportunities. In Egypt, rates of internal migration are low and it is undertaken primarily by adults who have finished their education and are moving to work or marry. This column reports research evidence showing that the children of rural to urban migrants stay longer in school and complete more education. The improved economic situation of their migrant parents plays an important role in their persistence in school.
Despite the rising educational attainment of women in Egypt, their employment has declined over time and many face multiple constraints on their engagement in the labour market. This column explores ways of increasing women’s assets and economic empowerment that may ultimately lead to Egypt being as equitable in employment attitudes and practices as it is in education.
Labour force participation has decreased for both men and women in Egypt. This column reports the latest data, noting that the potential contributions of a large share of the country’s increasingly educated population are untapped. Creating a conducive business environment that can generate good jobs is critically important to engaging all of Egypt’s human potential.
Egypt’s potential labour supply depends on the growth and changing composition of its working-age population. This column reports the latest data on labour supply and fertility rates, concluding that the country has a window of opportunity with reduced demographic pressures to try to address longstanding structural challenges for the labour market.
What are the labour market effects of a massive influx of people on members of the host community? This column examines the experience of Jordan resulting from the conflict in neighbouring Syria. Evidence shows that Jordanians living in areas with high concentrations of Syrian refugees had no worse labour market outcomes than Jordanians with less exposure to the influx.
School enrolment for Syrian refugees in Jordan has been disrupted due to conflict and displacement. This column reports that despite a policy of free basic and secondary education, there are substantial gaps in enrolment. While younger refugees face challenges entering school and progressing once enrolled, older refugees need support returning to education after disruptions in their schooling. Well-educated refugees will be better equipped to contribute to the economy and eventually rebuild their country.
Ensuring the health and food security of the 1.3 million Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan is critical for protecting this vulnerable population now as well as securing their future. This column reports research showing that despite food assistance programmes, they face high rates of food insecurity. In addition, low rates of health insurance among refugees are likely to create barriers to healthcare, although refugees do ultimately access care when needed.
Syrian refugees in Jordan have been able to work legally with permits since 2016, yet their labour force participation remains very low. This column discusses why relatively few work permits have been used, potentially because of perceived downsides of the current system. The low employment rates and the low take-up of work permits are worrying trends for the wellbeing of refugees.
The conflict in Syria has created millions of refugees, including almost 1.3 million Syrians living in Jordan. This column discusses the demographics of Syrian refugees in Jordan, who are predominantly young and living in host communities. Refugees face unique documentation challenges in accessing critical services, but recent reforms have improved access and should be expanded.
A young person’s first job has a huge impact on the rest of their working life. Today, Egyptian youth face big challenges in securing that first position. This column explains why active labour market policies are unlikely to help with the initial transition into employment. Instead, policy-makers in Egypt should focus on improving the investment climate for small firms, and creating safe and accessible jobs for young women.
Policy discussions about the health of Egypt’s labour market focus almost exclusively on one indicator: the unemployment rate. This column argues that the unemployment rate is a poor indicator of the cyclical performance of the economy. What’s more, it focuses attention on the plight of a very specific group of people, who are not the most vulnerable to poor labour market conditions.
At a time when young people in MENA countries face an increasingly protracted and difficult transition to adulthood, how can housing policy help them to marry and form independent households? This column explains how reforms to the rental housing market in Egypt helped to reverse a trend towards later marriages.
Attainment of higher education is strikingly unequal in Egypt and Tunisia, and a little less so in Jordan. This column reports research showing that in all three countries, family background is the primary driver of inequality. Particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, public spending on higher education is regressive, with the result that what purports to be a meritocratic and equitable system in reality perpetuates inequality.