Saudi Arabia Table of Contents

The Saudi labor force has undergone tremendous change in the latter half of the twentieth century as a consequence of the demise of traditional means of livelihood linked to pastoral nomadism as a way of life for most of the people and the rise of a modern economy. A large number of Saudis moved from these occupations older into government service. Many foreign workers were also brought into the kingdom by the private sector. With the domestic labor force growing at an average of 5 percent annually between 1975 and 1985, despite an annual population growth among the highest in the world at 3.5 percent, foreign labor was still necessary. Estimates varied, but a reliable Western source indicated that total employment grew from more than 1.7 million in 1975 to 2.2 million in 1980. The domestic work force numbered 1 million people (58 percent of total employment) in 1975. By 1980 employment of foreigners had risen from 723,000 in 1975 to more than 1 million (or 46 percent of total employment).

Ministry of Planning estimates, providing a breakdown of the sectoral distribution of employment, showed a slightly different picture. According to these figures, the total work force was 2.9 million in FY 1979, of which 1.3 million workers were in producing sectors and 1.6 million were in the services sectors. Labor was concentrated in four main sectors: in FY 1979 agriculture accounted for 15.8 percent of the total work force, construction 20.4 percent, trade 10.6 percent, and community and social services, including government service, 34.1 percent. By FY 1989 the total labor force had risen to close to 5.8 million, with 2.1 million in production sectors and 3.7 million in service sectors. Agriculture's share had fallen to 9.9 percent, construction was down to 16.4 percent, whereas trade's share of the labor force rose to 15.6 percent and community and social services were up to 42.4 percent. These figures indicated the extent to which the government had a direct hand in the livelihood of the average Saudi.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress