Economic Uncertainty in Life

Transposing emblem by Rayan Harake

In a country with a turbulent past and extensive government corruption in the present, uncertainty seems to be the defining element of our lives. This uncertainty manifests itself in our daily economic and financial situation, starting with the lack of jobs and high unemployment rate and extending all the way to insufficient social services and plans to help Lebanon’s poor.

The journey of uncertainty in Lebanon starts with deciding on our path of education: Does acquiring a technical or a university degree ensure a stable and well-paying job? Statistics concerning employment in Lebanon indicate that the answer is probably “no.” Today, it is estimated that 25% of Lebanese are unemployed – and of those who are employed, a high number are actually working outside of their fields.[1] According to Lebanese Labor Minister Mohammad Kabbara, “30,000-35,000 young people graduate from university every year, but only 5,000 jobs are offered annually, which leaves some 30,000 without a position.”[2]

For a long time, the Lebanese have immigrated to neighboring and distant countries to find better opportunities and ensure a stable future. With a relatively safe atmosphere in recent years (compared to a long history of internal and external wars), the number of Lebanese dreaming of living abroad has not declined. The Lebanese economy is service oriented, with a weak agricultural and industrial sector. This explains the high number of graduates who cannot find suitable jobs in their fields – a problem also seen in the lack of Lebanese labor market guidance offered to students. Combined with the corruption in the public sector and the need to “know someone” in order to attain a job, many of the Lebanese see migration as their best path towards a stable future.

The number of Lebanese nationals currently living abroad is around 800,000 – with a diaspora amounting to 14 million in second and third generation descendants – a high number relative to a population of only 4 million. A large percentage of Lebanese rely financially on a family member living abroad; the money that emigrants send back to their families accounts for around 16% of our GDP. For a country whose citizens are known for being proud of belonging to and loving their homeland, these numbers show how alarming the situation has become and how the government fails to implement plans that provide job opportunities to Lebanese and motivate them to stay.

Another aspect of uncertainty in Lebanon is the perpetual worry that our lives may suddenly fall apart as a result of circumstances that are out of our control. Illness places a huge financial burden on many Lebanese families who do not have health insurance; medical services in Lebanon are expensive and unaffordable for many living in poverty. And facing a car crash is another not-so-rare occurrence: it is difficult to think of someone you know who hasn’t been through one.

Over the past few years, Beirut has witnessed two incidents of building collapses, resulting in a total of more than 26 deaths. The issue of buildings needing repairs, yet their inhabitants unable to afford them, is a recurring problem in Beirut’s poorer suburbs. The immediate destruction brought on by these incidents paints a clear picture of the lack of security that many of us suffer from.

Lebanon is classified as a middle-income country—a classification which does not offer much insight into the economic disparities since it does not take into account how the overall income is distributed among the population.[3] The latest poverty assessment performed by the UNDP showed that 30% (1.5 million) of the Lebanese population are poor – living on less than four dollars a day. Of those, 300,000 are extremely poor – living on less than two dollars and fifty cents a day and unable to meet their basic food needs.[4] On the other hand, 0.3% of the population owns 50% of Lebanon’s wealth, showing how far we have spiraled down the scale of inequality.[5]

Despite the growing number of people pushed into poverty – a problem made worse by the Syrian refugee crisis – the social services provided by the Lebanese government are still in a primitive stage.[6] There is no clear national policy or strategy to help people improve their quality of life or that prevents them from falling deeper into poverty. What has been taking place so far is a set of interventions which usually come in response to a crisis and lack the coordination to achieve an effective, long-lasting goal.

The current policies only help to keep the poor in a fixed cycle of deprivation they cannot flee. They usually hold jobs of an informal nature, such as ones in agriculture, construction and services (like cleaning, driving and working in shops). These jobs are characterized by their low wages, little to no job security, absence of contracts, and the state of being hired for short or nonconsecutive periods of time. The Syrian refugee crisis added insult to injury, with many of the Syrian refugees going after this type of informal labor, sometimes accepting lower wages than their Lebanese counterparts. This has led to an increase in competition and has pushed more than 200,000 Lebanese out of their jobs, thus causing the poor to be in a perpetual state of uncertainty.[7]

Here in Lebanon, we lack universal healthcare, pension plans for the private sector, long term social security programs, and the list goes on. The available job opportunities cannot accommodate all of Lebanon’s students graduating every year, and many of them end up dreaming of a better future outside of Lebanon. For the poor and middle class in Lebanon, life is never-ending loop of uncertainty and worry. If the government fails to take action soon, the only defining characteristic of our future will be a disaster – and a very certain one. 


[1] Kadi, Samar. “Lebanon’s youth bearing the brunt of unemployment, regional instability.” The Arab Weekly. August 6, 2017. Retrieved on September 21, 2018: https://thearabweekly.com/lebanons-youth-bearing-brunt-unemployment-regional-instability

[2] Kadi, Samar. “Lebanon’s youth bearing the brunt of unemployment, regional instability.” The Arab Weekly. August 6, 2017. Retrieved on September 21, 2018: https://thearabweekly.com/lebanons-youth-bearing-brunt-unemployment-regional-instability

[3] Kukrety, Nupur & Jamal, Sarah Al. Poverty, Inequality and Social Protection in Lebanon. Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. April 2016. Retrieved on September 21, 2018: http://website.aub.edu.lb/ifi/publications/Documents/research_reports/20160426_poverty_inequality.pdf

[4] Chadi. “UNDP Latest Poverty Assessment Report: 30% of Lebanese are Poor. Blog Baladi. February 17, 2018. Retrieved on September 21, 2018: http://blogbaladi.com/undp-latest-poverty-assessment-report-30-of-lebanese-are-poor/

[5] A Separate State of Mind. “0.3% of Lebanese Own 50% of Lebanon.” February 18, 2015. Retrieved on September 21, 2018: https://stateofmind13.com/2015/02/18/0-3-of-lebanese-own-50-of-lebanon/

[6] Kukrety, Nupur & Jamal, Sarah Al. Poverty, Inequality and Social Protection in Lebanon. Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. April 2016. Retrieved on September 21, 2018: http://website.aub.edu.lb/ifi/publications/Documents/research_reports/20160426_poverty_inequality.pdf

[7] The Borgen Project. “Poverty Rate in Lebanon.” August 4, 2017. Retrieved on September 21, 2018: https://borgenproject.org/poverty-rate-in-lebanon/