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50 Percent Participation in Turkey’s Labor Force Illuminates an Economy on the Brink

Turkey’s official statistical institute reports decreases in the unemployment rate. Nonetheless, experts argue that the data is unreliable and simply represents the government’s attempt to whitewash the economy’s failing performance.
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On January 11, the state-owned Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) released its most recent figures on Turkey’s labor force for 2020.  The official numbers have caused worry not least for their economic implications but also for their flawed and opaque methodological foundations.

According to the figures, Turkey’s unemployment rate has fallen by 0.7 percent to 12.7 percent, while non-agricultural unemployment has fallen 0.9 percentage points to 14.8 percent.

For the 15-64 age group, unemployment has fallen by 0.7 percentage points to 13 percent, with non-agricultural unemployment rates following a similar trend.

Youth unemployment (encompassing those between 15 and 24 years of age) has fallen by 0.4 percent to 24.9 percent. Last year, it was at 30.6 percent during this period.

These figures reveal that one in every four young people was neither in school nor working in the last year. When considering this in combination with last year’s figures, it could be estimated that one in every three Turkish youths is unemployed.

Despite this gloomy picture, the statistics on Turkey’s labor force participation rates have caused many to question the reliability of the above-mentioned decreases in unemployment. Even though, the rates of unemployment decrease as the official data suggests the number of people who join the labor force continue to decrease dramatically.

According to TurkStat, Turkey’s labor participation rate shrank by 3 percent this year, leveling out at 50 percent. Approximately 31.5 million Turks were participating in the economy in the third quarter of 2020, that’s 1.3 million less than the same period last year.

In other words, only 31.5 out of 62.8 million working-aged Turks, and a total population of 82 million, are working.

According to the data, Turkey has the third lowest labor participation rate in Europe after Kosovo and Moldova.

Experts fear that the Turkish economy could actually be in even direr straits as they accuse the government of manipulating official data to portray a rosier picture.

Regardless of the accuracy of the official figures, everyday Turks are feeling the effects of a failing economy as they grapple with rising inflation, a weakening Lira, continually increasing taxes, and soaring commodity prices; all this in the midst of a pandemic.

A recent study published by Kadir Has University in Istanbul shows that 51.8 per cent of Turkish citizens think that their economic conditions worsened in 2020 and the high cost of living and unemployment are the greatest problems in the country.