Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 51

The latest employment figures released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TURKSTAT) suggest that, despite six years of robust macro-economic growth, Turkey is failing to create enough jobs for its growing population.

On March 17, TURKSTAT reported that, at the end of 2007, the unemployment rate in Turkey stood at 10.6%, only marginally above the figure of 10.5% at year-end 2006. The unemployment rate among young people is reported to have risen from 20.3% at the end of 2006 to 20.6% at the end of 2007. However, a closer scrutiny of TURKSTAT’s data suggests that the true rate of unemployment is considerably higher, particularly among young people.

TURKSTAT’s employment figures are always imprecise. For example, the latest TURKSTAT report gives the total number of employed in Turkey as 20.44 million at the end of 2007. But this figure includes 10 million people who are believed to be employed in the unregistered economy, for which, by its very nature, there are no reliable data such as social security contributions or tax returns. Similarly, TURKSTAT’s figure of 2.44 million unemployed at the end of 2007 is based on the number of people who are believed to be actively looking for work, not on the number who would take jobs if they were available.

TURKSTAT estimates that the Turkish population grew by 756,000 during 2007 to 69.25 million at year-end, although unofficially the population is believed to be at least 75 million. According to TURKSTAT’s figures, the number of people aged 15 or over rose by 763,000. Although the total number classified as unemployed edged down from 2.45 million to 2.44 million, the number of people estimated to BE employed fell by 315,000, fell from 20.76 million at end-2006 to 20.44 million at end-2007. As a result, the number of people over the age of 15 not included in the workforce (i.e. the total of employed and unemployed) rose by 1.09 million during the course of 2007. TURKSTAT estimates that 231,000 of this number were retirees and another 232,000 students who continued their education. However, this still leaves a net total of over 600,000 people who are not students, retirees, employed or actively looking for work. To put it another way, the number of people unemployed but available for work increased by 600,000 in 2007. The vast majority are believed to be young people (Radikal, Milliyet, Hurriyet, Dunya, Referans, March 18).

Even if it is not reflected in TURKSTAT’s unemployment rate, this trend can be clearly seen in its figures for labor-force participation. At the end of 2007, the proportion of the adult population either working or looking for work stood at 46.2%, down from 47.5% at end-2006 and compared with over 50% just five years ago.

One of the main reasons is a dramatic decline in female participation in the workforce. Female representation has increased in some of the professions. For example, in Turkey, women now account for 36% of all university teaching staff, 31% of architects, 29% of doctors, and 26% of lawyers (Dunya, March 8). However, overall female participation in the workforce stood at 22.2% at end-2007, less than half the rate for the population as a whole and down from 34.1% in 1990 (Anka Haber Ajansi, March 6).

There is little question that many in the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) believe that a woman’s place is in the home rather than the workplace. The current Council of Ministers has only one female member and, perhaps predictably, she is State Minister Responsible for Women’s Affairs. Very few of the wives and daughters of the leading members of the AKP have careers. On March 7, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan infuriated women’s groups by calling on Turkish women to have at least three children (Radikal, Hurriyet, CNNTurk, March 8).

However, such conservative attitudes are not, by themselves, sufficient to explain the decline in the number of women in the workforce. The main reason appears to be urbanization. Traditionally, most of the agricultural work in Turkey has done by women, usually on small, family-owned plots of land. Even today, 58.5% of all working women are believed to be employed in agriculture (Dunya, March 8). However, urbanization has meant that a higher proportion of the Turkish female proportion than ever before now live in cities. Although men may have been prepared for their womenfolk to do most of the work in the relative privacy of the family fields, they are often less keen for them to work outside the home in the cities; where most of the paid manual labor is, in any case, done by males.

But the latest TURKSTAT statistics suggest that the AKP’s failure to create sufficient jobs for more than a small proportion of the young people entering the job market each year could also have other social and political repercussions. Although the Turkish political agenda is currently dominated by the case before the Turkish Constitutional Court for the AKP’s closure (see EDM, March 17), the government is nevertheless aware that ultimately its political future probably depends more on its ability to deliver on the economy, particularly by creating jobs. For the moment at least, there is no question that it is failing.

Unemployment has also traditionally been a major contributory factor in political violence in Turkey. It is no coincidence that radical groups in Turkey – whether leftist, Islamist, Kurdish, or Turkish nationalist – are able to recruit among those sections of the population where poverty and unemployment are highest; particularly in southeast Turkey where youth unemployment often reaches 50-60%. The continuing increase in the pool of young unemployed men does not bode well for Turkey’s efforts to curb the activities of violent political organizations in the country. Perhaps most worryingly, amid signs of a rise in aggressive Kurdish and Turkish nationalism, it increases the risk of ethnic clashes in the shantytowns created by urbanization which now surround all of Turkey’s major cities.