Palestinian Unemployment Up to 45%; 366,000 Now Out of Work

Around 366,000 Palestinians - 44.7 percent of the work force were unemployed in the second quarter of 2002, according to data released yesterday by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).

This compares to 170,000 unemployed in the third quarter of 2000, just before the outbreak of the intifada, and 315,000 at the start of 2002.

The PCBS figures use the broad definition of unemployment, in which people who do not seek work because they have become discouraged are still included in the labor force. This is because the narrowly defined labor force, which includes only those people who actively sought jobs, has declined sharply from 735,000 in the third-quarter of 2000 to 705,000 in the first quarter of 2002 and only 680,000 in second-quarter 2002.

Of the Palestinians who did work during the second quarter, 59.2 percent earned a salary that put them below the poverty line, defined as NIS 1,642 per month for a family of six. This compares to 43.2 percent in the third quarter of 2000 and 54.2 percent in the first quarter of 2002.

The dependency ratio - the number of people dependent on each wage earner - also grew, from 4.8 in 2000 to 7.6 in the second quarter of 2002, a rise of 58.3 percent. In the West Bank, this ratio rose by 60.5 percent, from 4.3 to 6.9; in Gaza, the increase was 56.7 percent, from 6 to 9.4.

Due to curfews and closures, there was also a sharp rise in the incidence of absenteeism from work. In the third quarter of 2000, only 2.6 percent of workers were absent from their jobs for a continuous period of a week or more; in second-quarter 2002, this figure reached 12.6 percent.

The large rise in unemployment corresponds to a 45.5 percent plunge in the total number of hours worked in the West Bank and Gaza, from 9.1 million hours a month prior to the outbreak of the intifada to 5.1 million in the second quarter of 2002.

The percentage of salaried employees among those who work has also fallen, as more people unable to find jobs have to turned to subsistence farming or peddling. In the West Bank, the percentage of salaried employees fell from 66.2 percent to 56.4 percent, while in Gaza, it declined from 71 percent to 60.3 percent. A major factor in this decline was the sharp contraction in the construction industry, which had been one of the largest Palestinian employers before the intifada. In the third quarter of2000, this industry employed 15.9 percent of the work force in Gaza and 24.2 percent of the work force in the West Bank; in the second quarter of 2002, it employed only 3.4 percent of the Gazan work force and 13.6 percent of that in the West Bank.

The PCBS findings were based on a survey of 4,508 Palestinian households. Originally, the study was supposed to comprise 7,559 households, but the curfews and closures made it difficult to reach many of the chosen families.