RIYADH: Saudi unemployment dipped below 12 percent in the first quarter for the first time in four years — but the government data does not reflect the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
The Labor Force Survey published by the General Authority of Statistics (GASTAT), which was conducted in January 2020, before the pandemic, showed that the total unemployment rate amounted to 5.7 percent in the first quarter, unchanged compared to the first quarter of the previous year.
Regional economies have been hit by the double whammy of the coronavirus and weak oil prices which has forced major employers to lay off staff throughout the Gulf and led to the departure of thousands of expatriate workers.
Last week the International Labor Organization warned the outlook for the global jobs market in the second half of 2020 was “highly uncertain” and that employment was unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels this year.
“The estimates have revised upwards considerably the damage done to our labor markets by the pandemic,” said Guy Ryder, ILO director-general.
The Saudi unemployment rate decreased to 11.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020, from 12.5 percent the same period in 2019, and compared to 12 percent in the last quarter of 2019.
The figures also reflect an increase in the total labor force participation rate to 58.2 percent in the first three months of 2020, a jump of 1.8 percentage points compared to the same period in 2019.
GASTAT said that the stability in the unemployment rate and the increase of labor force participation rate were due to the increase in the number of employees in the survey.
That trend was driven by a decrease in the Saudi female unemployment rate that stood at 28.2 percent in the first quarter of 2020, 2.7 percentage points lower than the last quarter in 2019.
Meanwhile the Saudi male unemployment rate rose to 5.6 percent, 0.6 percentage points higher than the rate of last quarter in 2019.
The statistics show that there are almost 9.98 million people in employment across the public and private sectors.
About 3.2 million of them are Saudis. The figures exclude workers in the security and military sectors.
The data also reveal that there are 3.66 million domestic workers in the country, all of them non-Saudis.
The labor market statistics are compiled from two main sources. The first is the labor force survey, which is a household survey that is carried out by GASTAT and provides the most important indicators of the labor market, such as the unemployment and labor force participation rates.
The second source is administrative data which is recorded and updated by government agencies related to the labor market.