What do you get when you combine skyrocketing population with high unemployment? Higher unemployment and more poor people. That’s the gist of this article from The Washington Post about poverty in Saudi Arabia. While there is a vast array of government programs that help defray the cost of living in the Kingdom — national health care, education, a variety of pension and payment plans for the poor — many Saudis struggle to meet daily expenses. It doesn’t help that the poor are also more likely than the middle class to take part in polygamous marriages.

Nor does it help that there is a myriad of barriers, both social and governmental, put in the way of women’s employment.

In Saudi Arabia, unemployment and booming population
drive growing poverty
Kevin Sullivan

A few miles from the blinged-out shopping malls of Saudi Arabia’s capital, Souad al-Shamir lives in a concrete house in a trash-strewn alley, with no job, no money, five children younger than 14 and an unemployed husband who is laid up with chronic heart problems.

“We are at the bottom,” she said, sobbing hard behind a black veil that left only her eyes visible. “My kids are crying, and I can’t provide for them.”

Millions of Saudis live in poverty, struggling on the fringes of one of the world’s most powerful economies, where job-growth and welfare programs have failed to keep pace with a booming population that has soared from 6 million in 1970 to 28 million today.

Under King Abdullah, the government has spent billions to help the growing numbers of poor people, estimated to be as much as a quarter of the native Saudi population.

But critics complain that those programs are inadequate, and that some royals seem more concerned with their wealth and the country’s image than with helping the needy. Last year, for example, three young Saudi video bloggers were arrested and jailed for two weeks after they produced an online video about poverty in Saudi Arabia.

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