Tunisia: The 'Economic Miracle' That Never Was

The recent suicide of an unemployed 24-year-old man in Tunisia -- who electrocuted himself by touching a high-voltage electrical pole after shouting "no for misery, no for unemployment" — and the ensuing unrest are signs of the frustration and despair felt by the country's youth as Tunisia's economy slows.

 Even as the level of education among job seekers in Tunisia has improved, the government has failed to make policies guaranteeing enough job creation to absorb new entrants to the labor market, especially among those with university degrees.

As a result, Tunisia has one of the highest levels of unemployment among Arab states: more than 14% overall and 30% among those between age 15 and 29.

Many of those with degrees -- after failing to find work commensurate with their qualifications -- wind up launching small businesses in the informal sector, which leaves them asking their families for financial help. Others choose to emigrate to other countries, be it legally or illegally.

Sadly, the suicide rate among young people has increased as well. Some youths have even set themselves on fire in public to draw officials' attention to their depressed state. As the latest incident demonstrates, these acts are neither isolated nor exceptional. Rather, they express a deep sense of despondence among many youth that their chances for employment and a dignified life are dwindling.

The lack of job opportunities for Tunisia’s educated youth exists for several reasons.
First, Tunisia's growth model suffers from excessive specialization and over-dependence on one market -- the European Union -- that has not matched Tunisia's supply with demand.

 Second, Tunisia based its growth strategy on low-skill sectors that depend on cheap labor, such as textiles and clothing manufacturing, as well as tourism aimed at Europeans with medium-to-low incomes. These sectors do not provide enough job opportunities for the highly educated newcomers in the labor market.

Third, the demand for highly skilled labor has not kept up with the increased level of education in Tunisia.

Over the last decade, the proportion of job seekers with higher education rose from 20% of the labor force in 2000 to more than 55% in 2009.

Fourth, the business environment in Tunisia offers little protection for investors -- especially local ones -- due to the absence of transparency and the rule of law. In addition, small- and medium-size institutions suffer from limited funding opportunities. Both of these factors limit initiative and restrain private-sector investment, hurting job creation.

Fifth, the restrictive eligibility criteria for Tunisia's labor-market policies limit the number of people who benefit from them and make the average amount of money spent per participant very high.

To provide more employment opportunities that better match job-seekers' education levels and increase economic growth, Tunisia's leaders must design incentives to direct resources toward knowledge-intensive sectors and industries, stimulate technological innovation, and overcome weaknesses in the business climate and administration. The return on investment in education is a central component of the Tunisian social model that is currently being wasted at both the individual and collective level.

 Tunisia's policymakers must develop a strategic vision for growth that will enable the economy to absorb the available human capital -- and they must do so quickly. This will not only help young people find jobs now, but will reassure them that a better future lies ahead.

Article first published at Los Ange;es Times.


 Lahcen Achy is a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center . He is an economist with expertise in development and institutional economics, as well as trade and labor, with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa.  From 2004 to 2009 he was a professor at Morocco’s National Institute of Statistics and Applied Economics, where he taught development economics and international economics. In September 2008, he was a visiting professor at the Gambian University of Banjul. Prior to that, he was a research associate at the Free University of Brussels and a visiting professor in the international master’s program jointly organized by the Free University and the University of Namur.  Achy is a research fellow in the Economic Reform Forum and the Moroccan Academic Liaison for the Researchers’ Alliance for Development. In this capacity he works to increase interaction between the academic development community and the World Bank. He has consulted for the World Bank, the UN Development Programme, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Economic Commission for Africa.







0 #3 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Tunisia: The 'Economic Miracle' That Never WasMISS TMURHT AMAZIGH 2011-01-13 01:00
Lybia is repressive too especially with its Berber populations!!!! No pride , No shame , that's North African leaders.

Samir Tunsi
0 #2 ProfessorSamir Tunsi 2011-01-12 04:48
Mr. Achy,

I am disappointed at your appeasing article. You stated, "Tunisia's policymakers must develop a strategic vision for growth that will enable the economy to absorb the available human capital -- and they must do so quickly. This will not only help young people find jobs now, but will reassure them that a better future lies ahead." Are you joking? Tunisia does not have any shrewd policymakers. They all need to be arrested and taken to jail. A complete cleaning of the house is needed by any means. Ben Ali must be brought to justice for embezzling billions like those in Algeria, Iraq, Syria and other countries.
0 #1 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Tunisia: The 'Economic Miracle' That Never WasMorcelli 2011-01-12 04:01
I am not even sure that the Tunisians rose up because of unemployment. They rose up because they want top be free, they want to breath the air of freedom, they want to be treated as citizens not as subjects, they do not want to be enslaved in their own country, 2 dictators have ruled Tunisia since their independence more than 50 years ago. Tunisians are more educated than any other North African country and it is hard to enslave and brainwash an educated person. Tunisians want to be treated as adults free citizen, they are tired, very tired of more of the same.

The same hold true for Algerians and Tunisians and of course Moroccans. As for the Libyans, no one has any idea who those people are, Qaddafi basically is imprisoning an entire population for the last 40 years, The longest serving dictator on the face of this earth. We now have Moubarak and qaddafi preparing their sons to take over, zin el abidine pushing his wife to do it all, and the sad part is Bouteflika who is tutoring his brother another ancient oldy to deal with the generals, I mean the butchers of North Africa.

Next time your criticize the US, please remember when you come from, the could serve a wake up call to be thankful to theis democracy, even though some fools think that the US is not a democracy

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