What is happening with unemployment in Jordan?

By Cesilia Faustina
Photography by Cesilia Faustina

Unemployment is ridiculous. It continues to be a big problem amongst our society with rising numbers every few months.

Jordan’s unemployment rate reached another all-time high in January 2019 at 18.7 percent, according to the World Bank. Though worldwide, unemployment does seem to be experiencing some progress, down to 5.4 percent in 2018, so it is not all bad, however, it still continues to be a topic of complaint.

One Jordanian has had to feel the pressures of not having a job within the country, seeing employment as an unfortunate situation.

Ibrahim Husseini is a 27-year-old Jordanian currently working for an NGO. Having worked in a number of random jobs, he saw a pattern amongst the job industry.

“This is the way the world works, I take offence to it, but I still have to do it because if I don’t, I’m never going to get a job,” he said.  

Ibrahim Husseini is an NGO worker based in Amman, Jordan.

Wasta is an Arabic word often referred to as “connections.” Connections are the centre of life seeing how it greatly affects people’s lives and how society works. Ibrahim has experienced his fair share of wastas, especially in terms of finding a job.

“I’ve never been able to get an actual paid job or even survivable job – McDonald’s is not survivable – without somebody’s help,” he said.

“And that’s the reality of what we are living in.”

Ibrahim has experienced multiple jobs, all of which involved some form of recommendation. His first job in McDonald’s was the only job he managed without wasta.

With the rising number of unemployment, he felt the difficulties to actually find work and felt people should appreciate the opportunities they receive more.

“If you are a socially awkward person and you don’t have any friends and you estrange yourself from your family that’s pretty much the equivalent of career suicide in this country,” he said.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If somebody throws an opportunity your way, be it a flyer on the freakin wall or a friend, take that chance and commit to it.”

Jordan has been experiencing hardships in the job market, with fewer jobs available and slow economic progress – not to mention external war and a rising number of refugees – the country has been experiencing difficulties in job creation.

Ibrahim said he appreciated the work opportunity he received, especially with a good-paying income, however, at the end of the day, money continues to be an issue due to providing for his family.

“I’m probably giving 60 to 80 percent of [my income] a month to the family, and it might feel frustrating at times, but I would look at my family and say, ‘I’m missing out in all the things I want to do, but neither are they doing the things they want to do,’ we’re both in the same situation,” he said.

“This is what happens when you give people, not an equal share of responsibility, but what they deserve, like somebody who gets paid 1,000 needs to give more than somebody getting paid 400 a month, so that’s the idea.”

The unfairness of it all

Though it might not seem fair at times, Ibrahim had thought of a way to receive his share of the treasure.

“I actually referred to this before, this feeling of insecurity of not having any money saved up at the end of the day,” he said.

“I came to an agreement with my mother and my father that, whenever I was working as a teacher and making half of what I make now and giving it all to the family, I became frustrated that I had nothing to show for, I had nothing in my pocket, I’m not particularly young – the over-dramatization of somebody that’s 24, I’m so old, I have nothing saved!

“What happened was, we are planning to sell the house and the land that we currently own…so I basically struck a deal with my mother and father on giving my pay…once the house gets sold, I want compensation.”

Understanding the hardships of money, Ibrahim struck a deal with his parents.

“I would either get, once the land gets sold, I will get a share of money, I can get it as cash, or I could take it as another plot of land being bought somewhere else, I would get my due somewhere,” he added.

The obligations of having a job

Ibrahim has never seen jobs as a big deal before. He never saw it as a priority in his life, particularly when it comes to financial stability.

“I don’t save any money – that sounds really bad when you say it out loud. The fact is, it’s really hard at this point,” he said.

“If it were for me and it’s my expenses, I would be able to save up money, but it’s not just living for me, I’m living for my family and I’m living for my sister’s family because they are not exactly stable.

“They don’t have enough money to cover their own cost, let alone set aside money for things like college. Growing up, there wasn’t a single dime put aside for college, which means that would put them in the same situation as I was.

“My goal is I just want to improve myself, but financial stability and these safety nets, I don’t really look at it for myself, I look at it for the coming generation, and since my sister is the only one that’s married and the only one with kids, I look at them.”

“To be honest…I did it for myself to give me something to do and give myself social practice,”

The main motivation for this Jordanian apparently has never been money, he saw employment as a method to develop himself more than anything.

“To be honest…I did it for myself to give me something to do and give myself social practice, like being out there and just to talk and interact with people, whether from work or to do some sort of assignment or tasks,” he said.

“I mean, without the incentive monetarily, yeah, it kind of sucks, even if someone gives you pennies, but because there was no monetary incentive I kind of just needed something to fill my time with, otherwise I would go insane and just be generally unhappy.”

The poor millennial concept

“This week, I do not have a single dime and it’s affected me getting to work on time,”

Unfortunately, being broke is a common thing.

Having to provide for his family and having difficulties with saving money, Ibrahim has gone through many instances where he did not have any cash to spare.

“I often times think this is a stupid idea, I shouldn’t spend this money. Everything I spend money on has come back to haunt me. I actually have in my wallet all my card bills; every time I make a purchase with my card, I would look at the bill in the last few days of the month, open up the wallet and read all the papers. I would go ‘why the hell did I spend 60JD on alcohol, or why did I have to order out that day?’” he said.

Many millennial, typically known as the young generation aged 22 to 37, have been highly criticized with high debt rate and the occasional situation of living in poverty.

These numbers, however, are mostly supported due to the non-progressive value of paycheques, meaning salaries still have the same purchasing power it did years ago. According to Pew Research Centre, millennials are earning more compared to other generations, however, there doesn’t seem to be any progress.

Let us also remember that as years progress, prices and demands of goods are also increasing.

So what Ibrahim is going through seems to be a common trend amongst the youth today.

“It does bother me [not to have money], but I always think ‘it’s shit, but you survived through it.’ It’s not exactly comfortable to have to wake up early and walk to work, but you walk to work,” he stated.

“There’s nothing that is that serious, it cannot be solved in another matter for me. Money buys us comfort, it doesn’t buy us possibilities – to a certain extent, everything is to a certain extent.”

Living the life?

Though the Jordanian-Lebanese found himself content with his current situation, working for an NGO has never been his life plan.

“I honestly did not have any high expectations for this type of work. The type of work I wanted to work in, for a long time, and I had a crack at it, was education,” he said.

“I wanted to be a teacher…After I got the experience of working as a teacher, I can tell you that being a teacher was one of the most rewarding yet financially least rewarding jobs.

“It’s a lot of hours for the worst amount of pay, but it felt enjoyable because it felt that I was doing something I wanted to do.”

The goal one day is to become a professor.

“I actually want to become a professor of literature at college and to do that, that requires me going back to my studies, and not just finishing them but also doing further studies,” he added.

“That will be a commitment of years and a financial burden, and at this point in my life, there’s no one to assist me with that burden. I’m not going to bother and buy a fishing rod if I don’t have the boat.”

Still with a love for education, Ibrahim felt quite grateful to still somehow be working in that sector.

“I feel like I sort of struck a balance, because with this job that I currently have, yeah, it’s not my dream job, I still have a dream to work in education, to be the one that teaches, but you know, it pays well,” he said.

“It pays better than teaching and it’s better education and a better take on education than the previous one.”

The goal

“My plans are to find a way to do the least amount of work and gain the most amount of award,”

As important as a career is, at the end of the day, a lot of us just prefer to sit back and if possible, do as little work as possible.

This, in a way, is the same case as what Ibrahim feels.

“For me, an award isn’t just brass tax, it’s not just copper and pennies, award is also feeling satisfied with doing something I enjoy, and it has to serve my community in some way,” he said.

“For those of you who don’t know, I have very socialist ideals. It’s pretty much like buying a lottery ticket if we’re talking about financial security, while still enjoying yourself, and it’s only when you get that lottery ticket that you feel like you can contribute to the community.”

“Now that I’m older, I want to find work that is reliable that is easy and pays enough,”

That said though, he fully understood the evolution of growing up and making smarter decisions in life.

“Now that I’m older, I want to find work that is reliable that is easy and pays enough, nothing too much and nothing too little. You know, something mid-section,” he said.

“I’m not interested in thousands, I’m interested in covering my bills, going out for drinks once or twice a month and fair work and fair hours.”

All about growing up

Generally, Ibrahim saw career opportunities as something not to be taken for granted and felt people should give it more chances; whether volunteering, internships or something you just hate.

“Often times, people will have the opportunity to work, it won’t be paid, it won’t be something you like and you might do dog hours, I can say sometimes I would be at work from eight to midnight when I was an intern, and I was getting paid very little,” he said.

“Pretend it’s your dream job and the reality is, if you show commitment you dislike or something radically different from what you want, that’s going to open up more doors for you,” he added.

“It’s the diversity you have, where you work, what you have decided to show commitment in and if you commit to something you dislike, it shows you have tenacity, it shows you have flexibility.”

It apparently is about knowing your self-worth, as well, according to the insightful Jordanian. Speaking from experience, everything is not always a competition.

“Don’t take other people’s standard of life for granted, in other words, don’t expect that by this age, you should have this, don’t expect by this age, you should accomplish that. It’s quite frankly self-defeat,” he said.

“You’re not on the same level as comfort as someone else but by no means, does that mean you have less capability than the next person.”

It’s all about knowing your worth.

“…your life needs you to be flexible,” he stated.


Ibrahim Husseini is a Lebanese-Jordanian currently based in Amman, Jordan. He works as a program facilitator for an NGO and hopes to work in education, as a teacher/professor, in the future. He saw job opportunities as something not to be taken for granted and encouraged everybody to take the chance, even if it is just an internship or a job you dislike.

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