Riad al Khouri


Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Migration and Refugee Movements in the Middle East and North Africa

Publication Date



Due to expansion of the public sector, high rates of economic growth, and demand for Jordanian workers in regional labor markets, Jordan enjoyed almost full employment from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. This resulted in labor shortages in some job categories and paved the way for importing migrant laborers, particularly Arabs, to work mainly in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations. That prosperity did not last long, however, and unemployment began to rise in the mid-1980s due to slow growth of the regional labor market and the gradual return of Jordanian expatriates from the Gulf countries (though there was no parallel mass departure of migrants from Jordan). Economic crises in the late 1980s and regional conflicts also contributed to an increase in unemployment. Additionally, high population growth rates in earlier periods began to have an impact on unemployment in the country. Jordan’s population has risen tenfold in the past fifty years, to close to over 5.5 m today. This was because of huge net immigration, especially Palestinian, and high fertility coupled with low mortality rates. However, fertility began to fall in the 1980s due mainly to widespread access to family planning methods and higher levels of female education. These factors contributed to a significant decline in population growth rates, from 4.4% annually in 1979–94 to 2.8% in 1999–2000 and less than 2.5% today, which is still high by international standards. Nevertheless, projections are that Jordan’s population in 2015 will reach 7 m, while the share of the population of working age will rise to over 60%. This increases the need for employment creation substantially; the economy has to provide over 60,000 new jobs per annum for the next five years and 70,000 annually in the decade after to absorb new entrants into the labor market and prevent further unemployment, which today stands at around 170,000. In an effort to create jobs outside the public sector, Jordan has engaged in economic reform (including structural adjustment and liberalization) over the past fifteen years, which has helped the country’s growth. This has been especially evident since 2003, with the economy still doing well today. Partly as a result of restructuring and a more liberal system, Jordan's real gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.4% in 2006 (having averaged 7.3% in the past three years); the country's foreign and internal indebtedness decreased last year to less than 73% of gross domestic product, from close to 84% in 2005; and the deficit in the government's budget fell to 4.4% of the GDP in 2006 from 5.3% last year.1 Such a broadly positive reform outcome coupled with steady growth over the past few years nevertheless hides variations in economic performance. For example, resolving the unemployment problem was one of the main goals of the reforms adopted by Jordan in the early 1990s. However, despite state efforts to implement reform and achieve higher growth rates to create jobs, unemployment is still high, and remains in double-digits.

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