Fourth time’s the charm? Saudi Arabia delays jobless data release

The kingdom said the four-time delay was needed to validate data collected from 33,000 households during the coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi Arabia has delayed the release of closely watched data on citizen unemployment four times amid political sensitivity over a jobless rate that rose to the highest level on record last year.

The kingdom’s labor market report for the third quarter of 2020 was meant to be published in late December, but was rescheduled several times before officials simply removed the release date from the website of the Saudi statistics authority, saying they needed more time “due to the importance of the target period.”

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The delay was necessary to ensure that data collected from 33,000 households during a period of coronavirus-related restrictions meets the authority’s standards, it said in a statement on its website.

Creating enough jobs for the kingdom’s youthful population is one of the biggest challenges facing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he tries to diversify the economy of the world’s largest crude exporter. He aims to reduce unemployment among citizens to 7% by 2030, but it hit a record high of 15.4% in the second quarter, when the pandemic and lower oil prices struck businesses.

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Complaints over joblessness have grown common on social media, even as the government announces megaprojects that officials say will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

It’s unclear whether the third-quarter data will show an improvement as coronavirus restrictions eased.

During that period, the pandemic “had an impact on the economy that affected the Saudi labor market in terms of labor stability, job loss, job availability,” the statistics authority said. “The review of the data and their validity is extended in order to carry out a thorough analysis of the data.”

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