World Bank Lead Economist, Eric Le Borgne discusses the focus of new support for Jordan.
Public Sector and Governance
The recent article in Mada Masr about Egypt’s new public-sector minimum wage “falling short” makes the right point—that the increase will exacerbate inequality—but for the wrong reason. It is not because the new minimum wage is “not applied on the national level or across sectors.” It is because nearly three out of four Egyptian workers are small farmers, self- employed or work in the informal sector. These workers will not benefit from any increase in the minimum wage, whether it is restricted to the public sector or not. About 41 percent of those in the informal sector earn less than the previous minimum wage of EGP 700, and 75 percent earn less than the new minimum wage of EGP 1,200. The government has just increased the wages of those who are already earning more than about half the workforce.
Whether constructing a new bridge or buying textbooks for a public school, governments around the world constantly purchase a wide variety of goods and services. In the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, these types of public contracts represent between 15 percent and 20 percent of GDP each year, an annual amount equal to tens of billions of US dollars.
“I never thought that a poor family could benefit so much by me giving just a small amount of money,” the old man said with an intrigued yet hopeful expression on his face. We were sitting in a small classroom in Aqaba, Jordan, chosen as part of a behavioral experiment on Social Safety Nets. Although I have worked on social issues for many years, this statement was eye-opening to me.
Is the World Bank working with Non-Governmental Organizations to address high rates of unemployment in Tunisia? I remember this question clearly. It was asked by an NGO advocate during a recent workshop on public works in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. The World Bank team I was with had just finished highlighting the importance of developing public private partnerships for the delivery of employment services when the question was posed.
Since when do the hard-nosed folks who work at the World Bank on boosting private sector performance in the Middle East and North Africa go off to conferences to discuss ANGELS? Well, that’s just what we did last month when a team from the finance and private sector unit went to San Francisco to attend the Angel Capital Association (ACA).
Daunting challenges lie before the Arab-speaking workforce today. Forty million jobs must be created in the next decade to employ the region, home to the highest rate of youth unemployment – not to mention that many countries are still undergoing a period of political transition. The fundamental question about job creation now is where these countries should be headed and how they are getting there.
The topic of inclusive growth has captivated the minds of economists and politicians in the Middle East and North Africa for some time. The interest was there before the events of the Arab Spring and only intensified with the revolutions of 2011. But inclusive growth has eluded the countries of the MENA region.
Egyptians mark the second anniversary of their 2011 revolution on January 25. The revolution, which was in part fueled by unmet aspirations for economic mobility, highlighted the mass discontent of young people unable to find jobs that matched their expectations. The youth entering the labor force is more educated than in the past, but job opportunities have been shrinking.