The scourge of youth unemployment poses a threat to the economic growth in the Maghreb region

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A country’s economy will grow if there is continued investment in the changing demographics, particularly in the younger generations, within education and training while stimulating relevant jobs in the workforce. When this does not occur, the inefficiency of human capital leads to youth unemployment and overall economic instability which itself has jarring effects on society. Youth unemployment witnessed a significant increase since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and it has been one of the major crises that the world is facing today. Youth unemployment rate is high across the world; however, it remains persistently high in the Maghreb region as it has one of the highest youth populations. The Maghreb region struggles with high unemployment rates, therefore generating jobs with higher productivity represents a challenge for the region. In fact, employment creation is not sufficient enough to integrate youth into the labor market. Youth unemployment was aggravated because of the youth bulge [1], skill mismatch between the skills needed and the outputs in education; as well as, a shortage of decent jobs.

[1] Youth bulge refers to a demographic pattern that occurs when infant mortality rates fall but fertility rates do not. Hence, a large share of the population is comprised of children and young adults.

Employment in the Maghreb: regional disparity and gender inequality

Although there are differences in economic, social and political conditions among the countries, high levels of unemployment represent a major challenge for the region. In Tunisia, youth unemployment increased from 34.16 % in 2015 to 35.05% in 2018 and reached 36.26% in 2020 [1].  The rates are higher for young women more than men as the youth unemployment increased to over 38 % for females and to 33.20 % for males in 2017 [2]. In this regard, it is crucial to note that unemployment is particularly high among young educated women who have university degrees. On the other hand, Morocco has the second lowest youth unemployment rates in the Maghreb region and it remained stagnant for four years. As a matter of fact, King Mohammed VI urged the Moroccan banking and financial institutions to develop solutions to advance youth entrepreneurship and expand access to finance in order to combat youth joblessness. Between 2017 and 2019, youth unemployment went from 22.34 % to 22.07 % and there is no big gender gap in unemployment rates as it reached 21.84 % for males and 22.80 % for females in 2019 [3]. This is because Morocco adopted policies to reduce gender inequality as integrating women into the economy can boost the economic growth significantly.

[1] World Bank
[2] World Bank
[3] World Bank

In Algeria, youth unemployment decreased from approximately 30% in 2015 to 25.59% in 2016 then it increased to 29.66% in 2018 [1]. There is an apparent gender disparity among the Algerian youth as the unemployment rate reached 26.59 % for males and 45.24% for females in 2018 [2] which shows female disengagement due to the high unemployment rates among women. The large gap in participation rates between men and women in the workforce is related to the gender norms prevailing in Algerian society. It is worth noting that the unemployment rate for women with higher education levels increased remarkably as they suffer more from unemployment compared to women with a lower education level. Notably, many women are employed in unskilled and low-paid jobs. This shows that there is a strong form of discrimination against women and that the labor market struggles with absorbing women who have a higher degree of education.

[1] World Bank
[2] World Bank

Libya has the highest youth unemployment rates in the region. It has hovered around 50% for five years, from 2015 to 2019[1]. Similar to Algeria, there are high unemployment levels among Libyan females as youth unemployment rates reached 69.78 % for females and 42.28 % for males in 2019[2].  On the other hand, Mauritania has the lowest youth unemployment rates in the Maghreb region. It remained relatively stable as it only decreased from 15.10 % in 2015 to 14.76 % in 2019[3]. The unemployment rate is low compared to the other Maghreb countries because it is sparsely populated. Moreover, its renewable energy strategy is a catalyst in the low unemployment rate as the renewable energy sector generates more job opportunities for the population. This is due to Mauritania’s abundant endowment of renewable energy resources; thus it strives to become a renewable energy powerhouse.

[1] World Bank
[2] World Bank
[3] World Bank

The factors behind youth unemployment

It is obvious that there are differences between the youth unemployment rates of the five Maghreb countries. In Tunisia, the surge in unemployment among well-educated young people can be attributed to labor supply pressures in the labor market; there are three reasons for this. The first reason is the supply of well- educated people has risen faster than the demand for skilled labor. The second reason is because of the surplus number of available workers. Currently there are over half of a million of unemployed Tunisians and the number continues to increase on a per -annum basis. The third reason is that educated women are less able to find employment due to the lack of freedom of movement. Women in rural areas are particularly constrained due to societal and economic factors. Moreover, the rise in youth unemployment can be attributed to skill mismatch between business requirements and educational outputs. The Tunisian economy is struggling to create jobs even when it is growing rapidly and the jobs are created in the informal economy, which means that educated people do not get the skilled jobs that they desire.

Even though Morocco has a thriving economy, its unemployment rate is still high notably among college graduates. Automation is a huge culprit to the unemployment rate in Morocco. This is demonstrated clearly in the automotive industry, which is dependent upon imported parts received and robotic assembly.

As for Algeria, the youth unemployment persists because its hydrocarbon-centric economy constantly fluctuates, and the government has not invested enough in the oil industry in order to grow the economy. Furthermore, interest-free loans were offered to promote new businesses to young Algerians; but this failed to kickstart the non-energy sector. With the exception of the energy industry, Algeria has struggled to interest international investors because of concerns surrounding security and an overbearing bureaucratic framework.

In Libya, youth unemployment was among the main grievances that led to the Libyan uprising of 2011. The country relied on the public sector to create jobs, which was an unsustainable idea. Adding to that, the Libyan education system is inadequate when it comes to preparing the youth to meet the demands of the labor market. The political turmoil and ongoing conflict exacerbated youth unemployment. Meanwhile, the deteriorating security situation affected the business climate, which is essential for job creation.

Lastly, Mauritania is rich in mineral and energy resources, but does not offer many human capital jobs. In fact, the country has its fair share of governance problems. The budding militancy, presence of military factions, ethno-racial tensions, and fragile politics do not help this impoverished nation. Unequal wealth distribution, politics that feature too much cronyism and a lack of proper public resource distribution all contribute to the instability that is present. In terms of responding to these prevailing issues, the Mauritanian government has been dragging its feet on facing the contemporary social inequalities that its citizens face.

Recommendations to curb unemployment

It is vital to tackle youth unemployment in order to fuel sustainable economic development and restore political and social stability in the region. Policymakers should address the factors behind youth unemployment and undertake social and economic reforms. Moreover, public-private sector cooperation should be primal for job creation. Last but not least, policymakers should foster a dynamic, entrepreneurial and competitive private sector


Ahmed, O.H. (2018). Algeria blighted by youth unemployment despite recovering oil prices. Reuters.

Boughzala, M. (2019). Unemployment in Tunisia: why it’s so high among women and youth.Economic Research Forum.

El Kadi, T.H. (2019). Youth Unemployment: North Africa’s Ticking Time Bomb. Atlantic Community.

The Rise of Renewable Energy in Mauritania.( 2018).

World Bank.GDP growth (annual %).

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