Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Ragui Assaad

Editorial board

Ragui Assaad
Professor of Planning and Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Ragui Assaad is a Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in the University of Minnesota, where he co-chairs the Master of Development Practice Program. He has been an ERF research fellow since 1994 and serves as a member of its Board of Trustees. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences. He is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn, Germany. Assaad’s current research focuses on labor markets in the Arab World, with a focus on youth and gender issues as they relate to education, transition from school-to-work, employment and unemployment, informality, migration, and family formation.

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Sudan’s labour market in an era of shocks

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.

Sudan’s labour market: new data in turbulent times

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.

Supporting employment opportunities for women in Egypt’s ICT sector

In Egypt today, the labour market has become increasingly inhospitable for women, with the decline in public sector jobs in recent decades. But this column highlights a potential cause for optimism. Female jobs in ICT are on the rise, having grown at a compound rate of 6.4% per year, compared with a decline of 1% per year for non-ICT jobs. To make the most of this promising trend, Egyptian policy-makers should aim to foster an attractive investment climate for international firms, with a focus on building up ICT training and offering more remote working opportunities.

Demographic pressures on the Egyptian labour market

Although unemployment rates have been falling in Egypt in recent years, this trend is likely to reverse in the next five to ten years as the ‘echo’ generation comes of age and starts entering the labour market and substantially increasing labour supply. This column, originally published at Open Access Government, explores the upcoming resumption of demographic pressures on the Egyptian labour market and what can be done about it.

Jobs and growth in North Africa during Covid-19

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.

Employment in MENA during the pandemic: persistent inequality

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.

The impact of Covid-19 on labour markets in MENA

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.

Gender and economic vulnerability in Egypt’s labour market

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.

Why does growth generate so few and such low-quality jobs in North Africa?

A new report examines the type and quality of jobs created in Algeria, Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia, and how they relate to patterns of economic growth. As this column explains, the history of dependence on oil and other resources as the engines of growth in these economies has meant a large flow of rents into government coffers, which has enabled an outsized but unsustainable role for the public sector as an employer.

Vulnerable workers in MENA a year into the pandemic

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.

The impact of Covid-19 on labour markets: evidence from Morocco and Tunisia

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.

Covid-19 aggravates Jordan’s acute youth employment challenges

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.

Reinforcing the re-emergence of the “missing middle” in Egypt

The more rapid growth of employment in small and medium-sized businesses compared with both micro enterprises and large firms in the Egyptian private sector presages the re-emergence of the ‘missing middle’. This column explains why this is a positive phenomenon that needs to be promoted and reinforced.

Egypt’s labour market: facts and prospects

An ERF policy conference on the Egyptian labour market in late October 2019 focused on gender and economic vulnerability. This column summarises the key takeaways from the event.

The Egyptian economy is still not creating good jobs

Growth in Egypt has recovered substantially since the downturn following the global financial crisis and the political instability following the 2011 revolution – but what has happened to jobs? This column reports the results on employment conditions from just released data in the 2018 wave of the Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey.

Tunisia’s labour market in an era of transition

Unemployment in Tunisia has been high for many years – and it is particularly prevalent among youth, women and people with higher levels of education. This column outlines the findings of a new book on the country’s labour market and the implications for policy-makers.

How has Jordan been affected by the Syrian refugee influx?

Since 2011, Jordan has been buffeted by powerful external forces related to the political situation in neighbouring countries, not least the arrival of almost 1.3 million refugees from the conflict in Syria. This columns outlines research presented in Amman in May 2018 on the impact of the Syrian refugee influx on the employment, education, housing and demographic outcomes for Jordanians.

Promoting better jobs for young people in Egypt

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.

Better measures of the health of Egypt’s labour market

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.

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Egypt’s care economy needs to address deteriorating working conditions

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.

Unemployment among young women in GCC countries

The average rate of unemployment among young women in the high-income countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is far higher than the equivalent for young men. This column reports new evidence on the extent to which flexible labour markets, in the context of a generous social contract, can reduce female youth unemployment rates in the region.

Boosting trade through flexible rules of origin in preferential agreements

Rules of origin are critical components of preferential trade agreements designed to stop products coming in under insufficient transformation or through the partner that applies the lowest tariff. But in practice, these rules are often needlessly complex, undoing the benefits of market access associated with trade agreements. This column reports research showing that the adoption of more flexible product-specific rules of origin within preferential agreements would give a significant boost to global trade.

Challenges of GCC investment in the energy transition

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have identified the energy transition as a crucial area of growth and are investing heavily in a diverse array of projects. However, as this column explains, the region faces a number of challenges in making a success of these investments, most notably its current dependence on fossil fuels, a lack of infrastructure and technical expertise, the high upfront costs, and geopolitical tensions.

The decline of social insurance in Egypt: directions for reform

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.

Social insurance in Egypt: between costly formality and legal informality

The rates of participation of Egyptian workers in contributory social insurance has continued to decline, even during times when the country has had positive annual growth rates. This column discusses key institutional elements in the design of the current social insurance scheme that have contributed to the growing gap in coverage, particularly the scheme’s cost and eligibility requirements.

Jordan: navigating through multiple crises

Jordan’s real GDP per capita is today no higher than it was 40 years ago. While external factors have undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the country’s economic outcomes, weak macroeconomic management and low public spending on investment and the social sectors have also played a substantial role. This column explores what can be done to reduce high public debt, accelerate private sector development and enhance social outcomes.

Making trade agreements more environmentally friendly in the MENA region

Trade policy can play a significant role in efforts to decarbonise the global economy. But as this column explains, there need to be more environmental provisions in trade agreements in which developing countries participate – and stronger legal enforcement of those provisions at the international level. The MENA region would benefit substantially from such changes.

Egypt and Iraq: amenities, environmental quality and taste for revolution

The Middle East and North Africa is a region marked by significant political turbulence. This column explores a novel dimension of these upheavals: the relationship between people’s satisfaction with, on one hand, the amenities to which they have access and the environmental quality they experience, and, on the other hand, their inclination towards revolutionary actions. The data come from the World Value Survey collected in 2018 in Egypt and Iraq.

Iran’s globalisation and Saudi Arabia’s defence budget

How might Saudi Arabia react to Iran's renewed participation in global trade and investment? This column explores whether the expanding economic globalisation of Iran, following the lifting of nuclear sanctions, could yield a peace dividend for Saudi Arabia, consequently dampening the Middle East arms competition. These issues have attracted increased attention in recent times, notably after a pivotal agreement between the two countries in March 2023, marking the resumption of their political ties after a seven-year conflict.