Tue, Apr 05, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Boosting youth employment key to revitalizing the Middle East

By Jeffrey Sachs

The US, by contrast, is a case of failure, except for youth from high-income households. US children raised in affluence succeed in obtaining an excellent education and have good job prospects after a bachelor’s degree. However, as the rich have successfully pressed for tax cuts and reductions in government spending, children from poor and working-class households are far less likely to receive a high-quality education, and the US government has failed to provide for training or adequate infrastructure. The result is a growing youth unemployment crisis among poor and working-class youth.

The countries of North Africa and the Middle East should learn from East Asia and Northern Europe, and take pains to avoid the failures of the US. If democracy is to take hold and flourish in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world, the new reform-minded governments must make the youth unemployment crisis their highest priority.

Middle Eastern countries should elaborate strategies to improve the quality and increase the length of schooling, invest in job training, establish private-sector apprenticeships and develop small and medium-sized businesses. They should identify key infrastructure projects needed to ensure private-sector productivity and they must work together to deepen regional trade integration, thereby creating a much larger market.

The deposed authoritarian rulers — former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Mubarak and soon Libya’s Colonel Muammar Qaddafi — stashed away billions of dollars stolen from the public treasury. This ill-gotten money should be recovered and put into a special fund for youth employment.

Moreover, with oil prices back above US$100 per barrel, the Gulf states are enjoying a bonanza. They, too, should create a special fund for youth employment in the region through the Islamic Development Bank.

There can be no better way to use the region’s resources than to ensure that its young people’s lives are enriched by education, skills and high-quality jobs.

Jeffrey Sachs is a professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a special adviser to the UN secretary-general on the Millennium Development Goals.

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