Egypt, like much of the Middle East, faces a major unemployment problem, which is exacerbated by its relatively young population. The vast majority of Egyptians work in agriculture or the informal economy, but others work in manufacturing, social services, the government sector, tourism and other industries.
Agriculture continues to dominate the Egyptian employment market. More than 30 percent of the population works in the agriculture sector. The end of the 20th century saw a huge population shift into cities, particularly Cairo, but rural employment in agriculture remains strong.
Manufacturing and Construction
Textiles have traditionally been one of the first manufacturing sectors to develop in an emerging economy. By the end of 2009 the Egyptian textile industry was growing at a rate of 30 percent per year. The 20th century ended with approximately 13 percent of the population employed in some type of industry–mostly light manufacturing--with another 7 percent employed in construction.
Egypt’s pyramids, temples, archaeological treasures and Red Sea resorts make tourism an integral part of the country’s economy. The tourism sector employs tour guides, drivers, food service workers, archaeologists and museum workers. Hotels are a valuable source of jobs and employ people at all levels from janitorial through management. Tourism is an important source of foreign currency earnings. In 2007 approximately 13.7 percent of the population worked in the travel and tourism industry.
Self-Employment and Microenterprise
A large percentage of Egyptians are self-employed and work inside an informal economy, as is the case throughout most of the developing world. International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have poured money into microenterprise projects, helping Egyptians to start their own small businesses. Hundreds of thousands of micro and small-scale enterprises dominate the informal sector. The informal sector includes personal services workers, like maids and other household employees. Microenterprises include small retailers, artisans and a wide range of dining and food service businesses.
Government employment has long been sought after by workers because of its relative stability plus the assurance of a pension, medical insurance and other privileges. Initiatives to eliminate public waste and inefficiency have reduced the number of people entering employment in the public sector, but it remains a vital part of the economy. More than 30 percent of government employees are teachers.
Population growth translates into growth in the services sector. Financial services experienced growth during the first decade of the 21st century, with jobs at branches of local and international banks. Nearly half of the population works in the service sector, but a large percentage of these workers are employed informally.
Big infrastructure projects employ large numbers of workers, though many of the jobs are temporary in nature. Egypt’s oil and petroleum sectors are crucial export industries that provide some employment, but they still employ relatively small numbers of workers. Many more people work for public utility companies.