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Research Question

  1. What is the state of the labor market in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, as measured by labor force participation rate, unemployment rate and hours worked by gender and location, and the sectoral composition of male and female employment?

Comprehensive and reliable statistics are crucial for designing economic policies. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq lacks the statistics it needs to improve infrastructure, encourage private-sector development, attract foreign investment, and create sustained economic growth. The Kurdistan Region Statistics Office needs to build capacity to collect the data. RAND worked closely with the office and in consultation with relevant ministries to build capacity by preparing, conducting, and analyzing the first round of a survey of the region's labor force critical to government policymaking. RAND provided overall guidance and both analytical and hands-on training to organization staff. Further, by being involved in the complete life cycle of the survey, from conception through data collection to policy analysis, and by being responsible for the final execution and analysis of the surveys, that staff benefited from learning by doing. Future rounds of the survey will provide up-to-date information on how these and other important indicators are changing over time and in response to policies.

Key Findings

Labor Force Participation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) Is Low

  • Overall, just 38 percent of adults age 15 and older participate in the KRI labor force, with very low female participation driving the overall rate. This percentage is essentially the same in Jordan but is significantly lower in Turkey (~50 percent) and Egypt (~48 percent). Nearly 66 percent of men 15 years and older are in the labor force. However, only about 38 percent of males aged 15–24 are in the labor force, largely because many are still studying. Only about 6 percent of female youth participate.

The Unemployment Rate Compares Favorably with Most of the Middle East

  • At 7.4 percent, the unemployment rate is not low but compares favorably with most countries of the Middle East region. The rate differs significantly between men (5.0 percent) and women (19.9 percent).
  • Youth unemployment (ages 15–24) in the KRI is 17.6 percent, significantly higher than for the entire labor force. However, as with unemployment overall, youth unemployment in the KRI is among the lowest in the region. In the KRI, the unemployment rate for female youth is very high, at 48.9 percent, compared to 12.8 percent for young men.
  • Public sector employment plays a dominant role in the economy, accounting for about half of all jobs. 51.4 percent of employment in the KRI can be characterized as being in the formal sector. The vast majority of working women are in the formal sector, almost all in the public sector.


  • Conduct the KRLFS every quarter. Conducting the KRLFS every three months will provide policymakers and the public with up-to-date indicators on the labor force. This routine data collection also conforms to best practices for labor force surveys across the world and will enhance KRSO capabilities through repeated implementation.
  • Continue to build capacity by collecting firm-level data as well, perhaps to calculate the Gross Regional Product (GRP). GRP is the key measure of economic output of the region; hence, it is an essential indicator for policy. RAND will work with the KRSO to use existing data and collect new data, as needed, to achieve this aim. The KRG will need to collect new surveys, as well as using existing surveys and other data sources, to accurately calculate the GRP. RAND can continue to work with and build the capacity of the KRSO via workshops and communication on data collection, analysis, and reporting on this and other critical topics.

This research was undertaken within RAND Labor and Population.

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