By Arash Hasan-Nia
October 5, 2021
A recent report by the Statistical Center of Iran has put the unemployment rate across Iran at 9.6 percent this summer: an 0.1 percent increase on the same period last year. Also this season, though, the overall labor force participation rate – generally a better indicator of the country’s economic health – stood at just 41.1 percent: a decline of 0.7 percent. And the Statistical Center also notes that actual number of employees in the formal sector now stands at 23.4 million. That means the number of employed Iranians has shrunk by at least 137,000 since summer 2020, and by 1.3 million, or 5.2 percent, since summer 2019 before the pandemic.
The latest figures also show a deepening gender divide, with men accounting for a little under 20 million of those still in work – which in fact is 41,000 more than last year, albeit still a decrease on the 20.3 million of summer 2019. Far more women than men have lost their jobs since the outset of Covid-19 in Iran. The rate of female labor force participation has dropped from 17.6 percent in the summer of 2019 to just 14.1 percent in summer 2020, and to 13.5 percent this summer, while the number of women in employment has dropped by 177,500 in 12 months and now stands at just 3,492,000. Close to a million Iranian women, a total of 927,261, lost their jobs in the space of two years.
The labor market in Iran had gone through significant shocks in recent years even before the coronavirus pandemic began. Business and transport shutdowns have since pushed millions more out of work, and the main victims, it appears, have been women.
The latest figures also show that while Iran’s service sector is still the biggest – with a share of 48.8 percent of the labor market – it has contracted since 2019, with 713,000 fewer people employed than in the summer of that year. According to the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, which published its own analysis of the Statistical Center’s latest data, hotels and restaurants, educational settings and health and social care settings are among those to have been hit hardest after successive rounds of job cuts and closures.
Iranian industry seems to have bounced back to its pre-pandemic level, with about 7.9 million people now back in work: close to the figure in summer 2019. But the agricultural sector still appears to be struggling; just four million people were (officially) employed in agriculture this summer, a decrease of 631,000 compared to 2019.
As IranWire has previously shown, the official unemployment rate announced by the Statistical Center must be taken with a pinch of salt. For context, from summer of 2019 to summer 2021, a total of 1,394,372 young Iranian citizens turned 15: the official minimum working age for the formal sector. But in the same period, some 1,744,116 people of working wage left the labor market and are considered economically “inactive”. They may have given up on finding a job, chosen to study instead, got sick or taken on full-time domestic or caring responsibilities. The relatively low unemployment rate is the result of a significant number of people quitting the labor market – in many cases because they had no other choice.