Almost a third of Middle East youths will be without a job in five years, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned in a report painting a gloomy outlook for the region's millions of young people.
Globally, it warned youth unemployment was also likely to rise over the same period, due in part to a stalled recovery from the global financial crisis.
But the rise in the world youth jobless rate from 12.4 per cent last year to 12.8 per cent in 2018 was dwarfed by Middle East unemployment levels, which would rise from 28.3 per cent to 30 per cent in the same period.
In North Africa, the jobless rate would grow from 23.7 per cent to 24 per cent over the same period, it estimated. The ILO classifies young people as those between 15 and 24 years old.
"The waste of economic potential in developing economies is staggering. For an overwhelming number of young people this means a job does not necessarily equal a livelihood," said Sara Elder, co-author of the report and research specialist for the ILO Youth Employment Programme.
The report, released on Wednesday, reflects the deepening gravity of the unemployment situation facing the region as a rising number of young people hit the labour market. Joblessness has swelled in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries rocked by instability as economic growth has faltered, while levels of youths out of work have stagnated in the other parts of the Arab world.
The ILO said 29.9 per cent of young people were out of work in Jordan and 38.8 per cent in the Palestinian territory.
A total of 28.3 per cent and 23 per cent of youths were without jobs in Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively, it added.
"Given the high youth to adult ratio of unemployment rates [3.8], as well as the youthful population in this region, youth bear the brunt of the unemployment problem, constituting 44.7 per cent of the unemployed," the ILO wrote in the report. "Young people in the region face joblessness despite the relatively low labour force participation rate of youth, which is the lowest of all regions."
As has been found in other research, young women were more likely to be out of work than males, it said. In the Middle East, 42.6 per cent of young females in the labour force were unemployed compared with 24.5 per cent of young males last year.
Similarly in North Africa, the unemployment rate for young women was 37 per cent, higher than the 18.3 per cent rate for men of the same age group.
In North Africa, a fall in the number of youth in the total population had helped to ease levels of youth joblessness, the ILO found. In 2000, one in three persons of working age was between 15 and 24 years old but this proportion dropped to 28 per cent last year and would sink further to one in four by 2015. The report also highlighted how North African graduates fared worse in the jobs market than their counterparts in advanced economies. Unemployment rates for people with tertiary education ran at 21.4 per cent in Algeria and 18.9 per cent in Egypt in 2010, it said.
"In Algeria and Egypt these rates are higher than for persons with primary or secondary education, pointing at a mismatch between the supply and demand of skills and education," the ILO wrote in the report.
"In most advanced economies, persons with higher levels of education are less likely to be unemployed, but this does not seem to apply to North African economies as prospects of finding jobs for those having completed tertiary education are grim."