RIYADH – Unemployment among Saudis rose to 10.5 percent in 2009 from 10 percent a year earlier, and topped 43 percent among men and women aged 20-24, according to government figures cited by Okaz newspaper on Wednesday.
Despite continued economic growth on the back of a massive government spending program, 448,547 Saudis were without jobs, up by 32,197 from a year earlier, a report by the Central Department of Statistics and Information showed.
Joblessness among men was 6.9 percent, slightly up from to 6.8 percent in 2008. Among women, the rate was 28.4 percent compared to 26.9 percent.
The very high figures for youth underscore the problem of a rapidly growing population that, for complex reasons, is not getting jobs despite steady economic growth.
The jobless rate was 43.2 percent for men and women in the 20-24 category, rising to 46.7 percent for men alone.
The report did not give a figure for women in that age group, but said that for those between ages 25 and 29, 45.9 percent lacked jobs.
The study did not cover the eight to 10 million foreigners in Saudi Arabia — a third or more of the total population of 25.3 million.
The country heavily depends on foreign workers for everything from menial jobs, construction and the service sector to work requiring advanced skills like technology and hospital jobs.
Employers often say Saudis lack adequate training and skills, or demand too high salaries. The biggest employer of Saudis is the government, while foreigners dominate private sector jobs at many levels.
The countryâ€™s total population is growing about 2.4 percent annually, with the figure significantly higher for native Saudis.
The population is heavily weighted on the young side — more than half the population is less than 20 years old and 40 percent aged 15 or younger.
That places great pressure on the government to create long-term jobs for its citizens, and Riyadh has been pushing strongly a â€œSaudi-isationâ€ policy to place native Saudis in jobs that foreigners hold.
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