EconomyJul 28, 2022
Survey: Economic Collapse and Government Failure Drive Lebanese Youth to Emigrate
- Fadi Nicholas Nassar
Three years into Lebanon’s debilitating and still unresolved crisis, the country’s future lifeline—its youth—are being pushed past breaking point. In April 2022, the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS) carried out a survey among 500 youth aged 21 to 29 in Beirut's two electoral districts to identify key priorities and concerns in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections. Though limited to Beirut, the results of this pilot study are cause for alarm and point to the increasing vulnerability and alienation of a generation Lebanon cannot afford to lose.
Two patterns stood out.
1) The Economic Crisis Looms Large
First, youth in the country’s capital have been hard hit by the crisis and are in state of acute vulnerability. A majority of those surveyed had to reduce food consumption (55.4 %), with an even larger proportion reducing their use of basic necessities, like lighting, heat, and water (64.2%), as well as refraining from (or postponing) the purchase of necessary clothing (65%) over the last six months. A staggering 58.2% of respondents reported that they had not held a job in the past 12 months.
This data reflects the high levels of nationwide youth unemployment in the country resulting from the economic meltdown. According to World Bank estimates, youth unemployment nearly doubled from around 23%, prior to the crisis, to an alarming 40%. Consequently, the economic burdens put on youth loom large over their priorities and concerns. The top three economic issues respondents wanted to see the government prioritize were: rising unemployment (23.5%), currency depreciation (22%), and basic services (15.4%).
While youth in Beirut I and II polled similarly in their responses throughout the survey, we noticed an important distinction in their ranking of the major problems facing Lebanon. The top three problems identified in Beirut I were the economic collapse, sovereignty challenges, and lack of accountability. Meanwhile, in Beirut II, the order saw a slight difference, with the economic collapse, poor services, and lack of accountability ranked as the major problems facing the country.
The shared concerns towards the economic collapse and lack of accountability underscore a joint emphasis, not just on the economic implications of the crisis, but also the underlying drivers and actors responsible for it. In other words, justice for the fall (and the fallen) appears to stand auxiliary to recovering from the collapse.
How “sovereignty” (and the challenges to it) fit into that calculus appears to be an area with little consensus. The survey sample is too small and limited to draw any significant conclusions, but the discrepancy does point to a longstanding debate in Lebanon over the sequencing of where to place Lebanon’s sovereignty—and those responsible for undermining it—in assessments of Lebanon’s economic crisis and pathways out of it.
Perhaps, the higher prioritization of poor services could be a reflection of the growing inequities within Beirut (and the country), especially in impoverished neighborhoods, and the increasingly dire and unequal state of public service delivery and deteriorating infrastructure. New studies could add clarity to this by zooming in on neighborhoods and their access to key services, like electricity and water.
2) “La Thiqa!” No Confidence
The second notable pattern is the minimal confidence youth have in Lebanon’s government and the country’s political and economic system. In their perceptions of the government’s handling of two of the country’s major crises—the country’s ongoing economic crisis and the handling of the port of Beirut blast—the majority of respondents expressed high levels of dissatisfaction. These alarming low levels of confidence are similarly reflected in their (lack of) trust in the new government. Not only did the majority of respondents have no trust in a new government (55%), only a slim minority (3.4%) had full trust in a new government to resolve the crisis.
The combination of this extremely adverse context and the minimal confidence youth place in the government to lead the country towards a sustainable and just recovery appears to be a significant driver of despair and youth alienation. Consequently, only around 15%-16% of youth polled expressed that they were not thinking of emigrating permanently from the country. Respondents cited economic and political reasons (as well as just economic reasons) as their main reasons for seeking permanent emigration.The drastic rise in emigration and high levels of desire for permanent emigration indicate a deeper crisis of confidence in the country’s social contract. Put simply, is this massive exodus a function of limited economic opportunities, increasing hardships and adversities, or a loss of confidence in the ability of the country to ensure key attributes of human security are protected?
After cross-tabulating respondents’ desire to emigrate permanently and their perceptions of personal insecurity and their confidence in the new government, we observed a relationship between feeling unsafe to vote and a desire to permanently emigrate, as well as a relationship between a lack of confidence in government to resolve the crisis and a desire to emigrate permanently.
It may appear to be intuitive, but these two relationships press us to frame youth emigration through the prism of state failure and systemic alienation. Youth in Lebanon are not simply leaving or aspiring to migrate out of the country, they are being forced to. And as the channels of formal migration narrow, particularly to those most vulnerable, irregular modes of migration will become critical routes out of Lebanon.
Youth in Beirut and the country at large are on the precipice of despair. This data raises many questions and directly challenges any attempts to frame Lebanon’s unravelling as a “manageable” status-quo. But three years into the country’s protracted crisis, one thing is clear: Youth are not failing Lebanon; the country is failing them. And time is running out.Fadi Nicholas Nassar is a research fellow at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS). His research focuses on international humanitarian and relief interventions in fragile and conflict settings, popular uprisings and social movements, and Lebanese and Middle Eastern politics. He is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution at the Lebanese American University (LAU). Fadi holds a PhD from the War Studies Department at King’s College London. A graduate of Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, he also received a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University.