The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia is undeniable, especially when considering the growing unemployment rate. During the non-pandemic years, around 10%-20% of Saudi Arabians were in poverty and many of that number were women. However, Saudi Arabia’s government has not released specifics regarding poverty or homelessness.
COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia led to 8,591 deaths and 539,698 cases as of August 18, 2021. Additionally, the government administered approximately 32.8 million doses of the vaccine to Saudi Arabians. Saudi Arabia has a strict mask policy, requiring all people to wear a mask in all public places. Otherwise, unmasked individuals will receive a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals, which is almost $3,000.
Unemployment and Poverty in Saudi Arabia
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia certainly begins with unemployment. The unemployment rate rose from 6.13% in 2019 to 8.22% in 2020 because of COVID-19. Most people in Saudi Arabia work in the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, the reduction of oil prices due to the pandemic caused the country’s economy to suffer and have significant layoffs. At the end of 2020, the unemployment rate in the gas and oil sector was 12.6%. However, it decreased to 11.7% at the beginning of 2021. The increase in layoffs made the job market more competitive. Unemployed men and women with no prior job experience must compete for jobs with people who have more work experience.
Furthermore, the pandemic severely affected women in the job market. Women are struggling because their main career areas are private-sector jobs such as retail and education. These types of jobs are core areas where the pandemic stay-at-home policies caused quite a shift. Additionally, half of the young Saudi women do not have employment and do not have education or formal training. COVID-19 is slowing the process for Saudi women to join the workforce. Closing schools and daycare made it difficult for women to work because someone needs to stay home with their children.
What is Saudi Arabia Doing to Help?
In 2016, the Saudi Arabian government created Vision 2030, a strategy to improve many aspects of the country by 2030. Tourism and women’s rights are examples of Vision 2030’s goals. However, the larger aim is to improve the overall life of people in Saudi Arabia. Concerning women and jobs, the goal is to encourage women to go to college and develop their talents. Saudi Arabia is making efforts for women to have more job security and improve their quality of life. In fact, from 2017 to 2020, the percentage of women in the workforce increased from 20% to 33%. Women having more job security and opportunities will make challenging events such as COVID-19 more manageable in the future.
According to the Vision 2030 plan, Saudia Arabia will address poverty. The plan also stated that “subsidies for fuel, food, water and electricity will be better utilized by redirecting them towards those in need.” The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia slowed down the progress of Vision 2030, but the strategy is still flourishing. Vision 2030 is important because it is building a stronger infrastructure for Saudi Arabia, especially for the poor and women.
– Shelby Tomassini