By Anna Saghabalian
A survey of the labor market funded by the European Union suggests a staggering 30 percent rate of unemployment in Yerevan which is three times higher than the figure reported by the Armenian government.
The EU-sponsored Armenian-European Policy and Legal Advice Center (AEPLAC) has randomly interviewed one thousand people in all districts of the capital on their employment status, professional background and incomes. According to its researchers, almost one in three respondents said they can not find a job and half of them have university degrees.
The findings of the poll, made available to RFE/RL on Tuesday, differ markedly from the official nationwide unemployment rate of roughly 10 percent registered by the National Statistical Service. But they are largely in tune with the estimates of independent economists and analysts. They have long argued most of the Armenians out of work do not register with the government’s social services due to meager unemployment benefits and a lack of faith in their chances of finding a job with state support.
The AEPLAC survey confirms this belief, with as many as 75 percent of those polled saying that they have never applied to employment centers run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Most of those who have done so do not expect positive results, the poll shows.
The poll also found that unemployment is particularly high among engineers, a telling indicator of Armenia’s post-Soviet industrial decline. “The lack of industrial development means that many engineers can not find work,” said Hayk Barseghian, a leading AEPLAC analyst.
Unemployment has been the driving force of the mass out-migration of people from Armenia. At least 700,000 Armenians have left their country in search of employment abroad, mainly for Russia and other ex-Soviet states, since independence.
Government officials say the improving economic situation has reduced the process to a trickle in recent years. However, the unemployment remains very high despite nearly a decade of economic growth -- a fact confirmed by the AEPLAC survey.
Speaking to RFE/RL, the head of the Armenian government’s Department on Refugees and Migration, Gagik Yeganian, warned of a persisting danger of renewed exodus, arguing that the current pace of job creation is still too slow.
“The positive trends of the last two years must not be regarded as irreversible,” Yeganian said. “They could change very quickly.
“This shaky improvement can not last for long unless the situation improves dramatically. Otherwise, it could set off a new, more powerful wave [of emigration] which could affect between 400,000 and 800,000 people in the next five to ten years.”
The AEPLAC, which was set up in 1999 to help Armenia forge closer ties with the EU, also sought to ascertain incomes of Yerevan-based workers. Based on the respondents’ answers, its survey estimates the average wage in the city at 55,000 drams ($106). The nationwide average measured by official statistics is 40,000 drams.
The poll also found substantial gender inequality in the amount of pay, with men earning 70,000 drams and women 40,000 drams on average. Finance and banking sector employees were found to be the highest paid workforce with 130,000 drams a month, followed by lawyers who make 91,000 drams. Public sector doctors and school teachers are in the lowest pay category with salaries averaging 29,000 drams, according to the research.