- Title: IRAQ: Iraq's unemployed despair about the future
- Date: 29th April 2008
- Summary: YOUTHS PLAYING POOL
- Embargoed: 14th May 2008 13:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Economic News,Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA4D3925SNSLQ75X7TOT8C9BW6Y
- Story Text: Abbas Ramadan is a 29-year-old college graduate who spends most of his time smoking the traditional Arab "shisha" water-pipes in a crowded Baghdad cafe along with a group of his friends who are unemployed and penniless like him.
Ramadan's case is one of hundreds of thousands in Iraq: young and educated but poor and jobless. In fact, the labour ministry estimates the number of unemployed in the violence-riddled country at one million. Many believe the actual number to be much higher.
''We come here to spend our free time in the cafe and things like that, because of the situation, the unemployment. Living conditions are bad because of the security situation, unemployment is on the rise because of it,'' said Ramadan.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein five years ago, dreams of an economic boom bringing jobs to ordinary Iraqis quickly gave way to the reality of an insurgency disrupting economic life, factories shutting down and infrastructure falling apart.
Today more and more young men are finding themselves leading an idle life, with little hope for a better future. And for the few who do have a job, it is often a much more humble job than what they had hoped for.
Salah, a 20-year-old man, carried a large sack, half full of soft drink cans he collects on the streets of Baghdad. He can earn about 5,000 dinars (about four U.S. dollars -- USD) a day collecting cans, working from dawn until afternoon.
''I was in ninth grade and then I quit school to help my family. But there is no work. I applied to join the national guard but my name wasn't one of those accepted. So I had to do this. It's very hard, and the sun is very hot," he said.
But there are some good signs. Many parts of Iraq are much less violent than a year ago. Oil money has been pouring into the government's coffers, and the authorities have promised to use it to pay for reconstruction projects to put people back to work.
But so far, life for many remains a struggle. Iraq's planning ministry says 18 percent of the country's workforce is unemployed. And many formal jobs pay a pittance, meaning the true figure of people without adequate work to support themselves is higher still The unemployed can receive benefits worth about 40 USD a month, due to rise to about 50 USD. This year, the government is more than doubling a programme of small loans, offering 540 million USD to allow the unemployed to borrow to set up a small business. But such loans are only likely to help a fraction of people without work.
Sami al-Okaidi, an official at the labour ministry, blamed insurgent violence for the slow-pace of improvements in the job market. But if the country continues to be as stable as it currently is for only one year, jobless rates would dramatically drop.
''Regarding security stability, it affects the economic activity and the performance of companies and all the projects are being held up due to the violence. If these projects were to take off, they would absorb a lot of the working hands,'' said Okaidi in an interview with Reuters.
''And if security situation stabilises, or continues as is in the present, we expect that unemployment would disintigrate in a year.'' At cafes in Baghdad, men sit around chatting, drinking tea or soft drinks and smoke from traditional Arab pipes. Many are out of work, seeking solace in a game of backgammon or billiards with their friends.
Haidar graduated with a degree in Arabic literature two years ago and still has not found a job. He says he feels bitter that all the hard work of going to school and staying up late to study at the height of violence has been for nothing. He said government institutions he has applied to have said his qualifications do not match the skills they need.
''I spend most of my time here at the internet cafe to pass my free time. Because as you know, after graduation, we are at home with no jobs. We hoped that after graduation we would find pride in a job that's in line with our degree, which we worked hard to get,'' he said.
After the fall of Saddam, many men found themselves doing odd or unpopular jobs. Abu Mohammed, who uses the alias for security reasons, is a graduate of fine arts who found himself working as a security guard. The job, to say the least, was a blow to his dreams.
''I graduated from college and my hope was to become an efficient member of society and to work. My ambition was to get a senior government position and to lead a fulfilling personal and work life and to achieve my goals. But given the circumstances that we have been living in for the past five years, the only thing that was open was working with security companies,'' he said, clatching on to a machine gun, on top of a neighborhood observation post.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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