Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Turkish Regional Unemployment

TURKSTAT just released employment statistics by province for the very first time, as summarized very neatly in the Hurriyet Daily News. I could devote pages and pages to discussing the statistics, but I think the single most important observation could be summarized by comparing Northeastern and Southeastern Turkey, with the former having high participation rates and low unemployment and the latter vice versa.

It is interesting to note that both regions are characterized by poverty, but in NE, poverty has been working in favor of the region's unemployment statistics, as a huge migration has taken place to the nation's large urban centers, especially to Istanbul. Whereas there has been migration to the metropolitan areas from SE as well, there has been also considerable migration from the villages to the region's towns and cities as a result of the armed conflict with PKK, aggravating poverty and unemployment in the region. It should also be noted that agriculture is the main culprit behind NE's high labor force participation, as everyone works in the fields and gets subsistence living. It is tough to get the same effect from livestock, SE's bread and butter. It is also tough to raise livestock in the middle of armed conflict, I should say.

I should stop here because this piece is becoming a tad bit too political for my taste; besides, I don't want to be an Ergenekon casualty:) But all this has made me remember a nice little anecdote: While we were visiting him for the World Bank Higher Education Report, a prominent labor market economist (whose name I can't reveal, as I have not asked for his permission) told us (me, a couple of World Bank officials and a couple of other consultants) that he had tried to work with the same surveys these unemployment statistics are coming from some time ago, but TURKSTAT had offered him the surveys without the city codes. When he inquired why, he was given the following response: "If you calculate unemployment rates by province, the results may cause separatism." I guess the idea was that higher unemployment rates in the East and Southeast (as if we didn't know) would cause unrest and cause separatism.

Well, times have changed, now it seems TURKSTAT is advocating separatism itself:) A small side effect of AKP's demokratik acilim perhaps:). But given my response to the data, maybe TURKSTAT was right after all:)...

If this all sounds funny, note that, around the same time, an expert at the State Planning Organization was against planting trees in the SE because terrorists could hide in them. Then, this will all seem tragi-comic.

BTW, my own travails with TURKSTAT warrant a separate blog entry (or several), but all that will have to wait for now...

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