Country Listing

Jordan Table of Contents


Labor Force and Unemployment

In the late 1980s, after years of internal labor shortages, Jordan faced a looming unemployment problem. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Jordan sustained a high average annual population growth rate of between 3.6 and 4 percent. This growth rate was augmented by about 0.5 percent per year because of immigration into Jordan from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In 1985 the government calculated that the work force would grow 50 percent to 750,000 by 1990. In the late 1980s, this prediction was proving accurate; about 40,000 people were joining the domestic labor pool every year. A combination of GNP growth, increased worker efficiency, emigration, and attrition created jobs for most new workers, and unemployment was kept to about 9 percent.

Experts believed, however, that unemployment and underemployment would probably increase rapidly in the 1990s as the labor pool continued to grow more quickly than labor demand. In 1986 only about 20 percent of Jordanian citizens worked or sought work, a figure expected to grow dramatically as the youthful population aged. In addition, because of the recession in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states caused by slumping oil prices, Jordanians who had been working abroad were repatriating and seeking work at home. The Ministry of Labor estimated that about 2,500 Jordanians returned from abroad in 1986. Another source, however, estimated the number of returning workers and their dependents at 35,000 in 1986. Moreover, women--who in 1986 made up only a little more than 12 percent of the working population but almost 50 percent of secondary school and college enrollment--were expected to attempt to join the labor force in growing numbers (see Women and Work , ch. 2). The work force had some elasticity in that approximately 150,000 foreign guest workers could be sent home and their jobs given to Jordanian citizens; but even if all guest workers were repatriated, unemployment would persist.

By one estimate that did not include repatriating Jordanian workers, unemployment could grow to 30 percent of the work force in the 1990s in the absence of extraordinary government action. Therefore, although aware of the problems caused by labor emigration, the government remained far more concerned about unemployment--and declining remittances--than about the problem of emigration. As of 1989, the government had stated explicitly that it would continue to permit unrestricted worker emigration.

Data as of December 1989