Saudi Arabia
Sensing that change in multiple forms is necessary for the growth of the economy, Saudi Arabia has begun massive and unprecedented reform. At the heart of the reform, the Saudi government recognizes the need to invest more for the improvement of its impoverished people. Here are the top 15 facts about poverty in Saudi Arabia.

Top 15 Facts about Poverty in Saudi Arabia

  1. Saudi Arabia has the lowest reported poverty rate in the Middle East and the 10th lowest poverty rate in the world at 12.7 percent, as of 2017. However, the Saudi government does not release regular statistics regarding this information, resulting in varied estimates by outside agencies.
  2. The country is highly urbanized with close to 85 percent of citizens living in cities and many impoverished citizens, estimated to be around four million Saudis, reside in slums on the outskirts of those cities.
  3. Saudis who do not even live in the slums still struggle to afford the home in the cities. An estimated 60 percent of urban Saudis cannot afford to own their homes outright.
  4. The unemployment rate has risen slightly from 12.8 percent in 2017 to 12.9 percent in the first fiscal quarter of 2018. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government have made tackling unemployment a key component in their economic and social reform program Vision 2030.
  5. The government has implemented an insurance program for unemployed Saudis, but it is still difficult for recipients to survive when the cost of living is constantly increasing.
  6. A major factor in unemployment is the number of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. There are roughly three million Saudis in the labor force compared to 11 million immigrants who work in similar fields.
  7. Vision 2030 discusses plans to reduce Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil as the largest economic asset. Instead, the country plans to invest in other industries that will generate more jobs for unemployed Saudis.
  8. The government announced plans to implement nationalization quotas for small businesses and education programs to allow impoverished Saudis to prepare for the employment.
  9. Prince Salman believes that addressing poverty and unemployment is as necessary from the economic perspective as it is from the humanitarian perspective. He believes that by diversifying the economy and improving the poverty and unemployment rates, Saudi Arabia will attract more foreign investment.
  10. Saudi Arabia’s lifting of their long-standing movie theater ban has drawn AMC to create numerous theaters throughout the country, introducing service industry jobs for impoverished citizens who may not be qualified for more specialized positions.
  11. The government has lifted several bans preventing women from working and participating in the economy. With these barriers eliminated, women will be able to work and help provide for their families.
  12. Despite Prince Salman’s popularity and economic ambitions, many are still troubled by the vast wealth gap in Saudi Arabia. While many Saudi citizens live in poverty, Salman’s father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, has an estimated net worth of $17 billion.
  13. With the possibility of water and farmable land becoming scarce in Saudi Arabia in the next few decades, the government will likely need to establish new ways of ensuring food production and food availability at a rate that can support the country’s population.
  14. Saudi Arabia has a history of refusing help from the nongovernmental organization because of the fears of deterring investors, but the government has recently begun to change its policies in favor of helping its impoverished citizens.
  15. Changes will take time. While it is clear that Saudi Arabia is in need of immediate change in some aspects, it will take time for sustainable growth to be implemented.

As Saudi Arabia finds itself in a highly transitional period in terms of social reform and economic reevaluation, its citizens face great uncertainty. However, despite what some of these top 15 facts about poverty in Saudi Arabia may suggest, the country’s leadership has made clear that their top priority is to build the economy into something that will work for, rather than against, the Saudi people.

– Rob Lee

Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Poverty in Riyadh
Riyadh is an expansive metropolis located in Saudi Arabia and is also its capital city. It is home to about seven million of the country’s 32.5 million people. Despite there being a plethora of information on the country’s steadily growing economy, updated statistics and data on the poverty rates in Saudi Arabia and Riyadh are lacking, as the Saudi government seems to keep such information under wraps. Nevertheless, these 10 facts about poverty in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia can shed some light on the situation.

Facts About Poverty in Riyadh

  1. Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s most powerful economies, yet social welfare programs and job growth seemingly cannot keep up with such rapid population growth. The population of Saudi Arabia was just six million in 1970 and has been expanding quickly ever since.
  2. The Saudi family is the richest royal family in the world, with a net worth of around $1.4 trillion due to plentiful oil reserves, yet the country itself can be considered poor, with an estimated 20 percent of its people living in poverty.
  3. In 2011, three young men were arrested and jailed after uploading video footage to YouTube showing poor citizens in Riyadh. The video was a report on an impoverished area of the city which contained personal interviews and a call to action for the Saudi Arabian government to do more to address the issue of poverty. Thousands of people showed support and distaste for the arrests via social media.
  4. The government under King Abdullah has spent $37 billion on housing, unemployment and other programs as of 2012 in an attempt to assist the increasing number of poor people, despite the fact that the programs seem to be ineffective.
  5. The country controls about 22 percent of the world’s oil and relies on that source of income for approximately half of its GDP. Through Saudi Vision 2030, the action plan to privatize more industries and lower the unemployment rate from 11 to 7 percent, government officials hope to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil. The plan even lists specific goals related to the health of Saudi citizens, including building facilities dedicated to sports and physical activity.
  6. As the poverty rate increases, so do youth unemployment rates. Close to 75 percent of all unemployed citizens are in their 20s.
  7. High-status, image-conscious Saudis have downplayed the existence of poverty in Saudi Arabia and the topic was avoided in Saudi Arabian media. It was considered a taboo subject by the Saudi media until 2002, when King Abdullah visited a slum in Riyadh, providing an opportunity for proper news coverage of a Riyadh slum.
  8. The Saudi government provides free education, healthcare and burials to its citizens, although it does not offer food stamps or a welfare system. It also provides pensions and payments for food and utility bills for the poor and disenfranchised. It has been stated that many families still rely on donations from private citizens in spite of these efforts.
  9. Because Saudi Arabia is a largely Muslim nation, citizens observe the religious requirement of zakat that says people and businesses should donate 2.5 percent of their wealth to charity. That money is collected by the government and distributed among the poor.
  10. Women who are widowed or unmarried often struggle financially, as Islamic law and Saudi culture indicate that men should be the main breadwinners. Some establishments require women to have written permission from a guardian before being hired. Fifty-six percent of unemployed youth age 15 to 25 are women as of 2015.

Saudi and American analysts report that, regardless of the efforts to alleviate poverty, large quantities of money are acquired by the royal family through corrupt tactics and schemes. Perhaps through the actions of Saudi Vision 2030 and the charitable and religious nature of the country, a long-term solution may be implemented in the future.

– Camille Wilson
Photo: Flickr

In a country as resourceful as Saudi Arabia and where there is an abundance of wealth, oil and money, it is simply hard to believe that an area known for its riches faces economic disadvantages with millions of its residents.


Poverty in Saudi Arabia is a hidden problem that many Saudis hesitate to recognize. The Saudi Arabian government rarely releases data about its poorest people, making it difficult for the nation (and globe) to address the problem.

With the overall population at just over 32 million, the media has reported that an estimate of about 2 to 4 million of the country’s residents live on less than $530 a month ($17 a day) — a figure that analysts consider below the poverty line. In order for the government to tackle these issues at the source, there must be extensive programs that are proposed, including increasing development aid.


Education is the key to eradicating the underlying issues of poverty. Understanding and comprehending basic skills, such as reading and writing, improve the productivity of individuals in their daily lives which thereby bolsters industrialization.

This economic and social progression increases income distribution that has the potential to restore the people living in poverty in Saudi Arabia to their full potential livelihoods. In short, investment in education can result in big returns.

In 2013, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah approved a $21.33 billion (80 billion riyals) five-year education plan that is set to develop Saudi Arabia’s education sector. This plan includes: the construction of 1,500 nurseries, training for approximately 25,000 teachers, and the establishment of educational center and other projects related to the cause.

Influence of Education

Saudi has had difficulties producing employers in the science and engineering fields because of the education system’s concentration on religious and Arabic studies. In order to ease the influence of religion on education and expand the economy, King Abdullah has launched an excess of state schools and universities as a part of his education plan.

The reality for many families living in poverty in Saudi Arabia is a pattern that has impacted several generations — unstable surroundings that lead to poor academic preparation. Nonetheless, the situation can be improved if certain proposals, like the one implemented by King Abdullah, can continue to be enacted.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr