This category divides across both sectarian and geographic lines: In central Iraq, with higher percentages of Sunnis, Iraqis say it has become more difficult to find work. There is optimism in the south and still more in the north, where -- as you will see in the Availability of Goods section -- there has been a significant increase in commerce. Overall, however, only 38 percent of Iraqis say that it is easier to find work today than it was before the U.S.-led invasion.
Unemployment overall is difficult to gauge. There is a growing "informal economy," and many Iraqis have taken second jobs. A U.N. survey published in May 2005 put unemployment at 18.4 percent; this is almost certainly a low-end figure. Using a combination of American and Iraqi official data, the Brookings Institution, a generally reliable source for facts and figures about Iraq, suggests nationwide unemployment currently hovers between 27 percent and 40 percent. As a Karbala student told us, "unemployment is another disease" affecting the nation. (It can be a dangerous disease -- American and Iraqi experts report that the unemployed are increasingly being recruited by insurgents, who offer as little as $50 to participate in an attack.)
The work rolls remain decimated because of the purging of the old army and much of the old Baathist apparatus. Whatever the political benefits or costs of that much-debated policy, there is no question that it put a great many Iraqi men out of work. Further, the Iraqi government no longer finds it practical or feasible to employ the sprawling work force that existed during the rule of Saddam Hussein.
The good news here is that per capita income continues to rise, even factoring in the unemployed. As mentioned earlier, our poll finds average monthly income at $263, up roughly 60 percent from February 2004. Essentially, if you have a job in Iraq today, chances are you are getting paid a lot more than you were before the war. Salaries and incentives for government workers, teachers, health care workers and others have continued to rise. Teachers and doctors in particular have remarked on this -- and, not surprisingly, students and patients have noticed commensurate improvements in the quality of teaching and health care.
It is also worth noting that there are all sorts of jobs in Iraq today that simply did not exist before the overthrow of Saddam. The proliferation of media is an obvious example: there are no fewer than 10 commercial television stations, 50 radio stations and 100 independent newspapers and magazines now up and running. Obviously this is more important as an indicator of free speech -- but it also opens up a small labor force that did not exist before. The same is true for theaters and production companies hiring actors and actresses, and paying them well. To take one small example: salaries for actors and actresses in television have increased from U.S. $200 for a 30-episode series to nearly $800.
A final note: efforts are being made by the Iraqi government to lure as many as 5,000 expatriate Iraqis back home to fill vacancies in the country's colleges and universities. Thousands of teaching professionals are believed to have fled Iraq during Saddam's rule, and thousands more left after the U.S-led invasion. Here again, salary increases are in play; teachers who might have earned $50 monthly during Saddam's rule are being offered $500 to $700 a month now.