Labor Market, Unemployment, and Poverty

Like many developing countries, Cameroon’s economy can be divided into formal and informal sectors (Manga, 1998). The informal sector is comprised primarily of small agricultural producers, craft producers, and small traders, who typically operate on a very small scale without formal structure and records. The informal agricultural sector is estimated to provide 53 percent of the jobs in Cameroon, followed by the informal nonagricultural sector with 37 percent. Informal sector jobs typically provide far less income and are especially prevalent in rural areas While informal sector activity occupies a great deal of people’s time and produces some income for them, it does not tend to produce sustained economic growth (Gabriel, 1999).

The majority of jobs in the formal sector are government positions or jobs in parastatal organizations, which account for about 6 percent of jobs. There are also some jobs in formally established firms in transport, industry, and trade. These make up about 4 percent of employment (National Institute of Statistics, 2011; Singh, 2012). Cameroon has attracted a significant amount of foreign investment in the formal sector, but many key jobs are held by foreigners, and most profits are repatriated (Amin, 2004).

Underemployment and unemployment are significant problems in Cameroon; however, the dominance of the informal sector makes their exact extent difficult to estimate. A recent study by the National Institute of Statistics estimated underemployment at 69 percent overall, including 79 percent in rural areas and 57 percent in urban areas (Cameroon Tribune, 2006; IMF, 2010). Unemployment was estimated at 9.3 percent. Women, university graduates, and youth were especially likely to be unemployed, with the rate for those aged 20-29 reaching 36 percent (Cameroon Tribune, 2006). This makes operating or working for an NGO a desirable employment option.

Currently, Cameroon is ranked 152 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index, classifying it as manifesting “low human development” (UNDP, 2014). The estimated per capita GDP is $1,160 (2010 data) (World Bank, 2013). It is difficult to state with precision the exact percentage of poor persons in Cameron. About 40 percent of the Cameroonian population falls below the government’s official poverty standard. Poverty is heavily concentrated in rural areas, where education and healthcare services are also limited, especially among farmers and farm workers. Those employed in the informal sector are also more likely to be poor. Levels of poverty also differ within urban areas. For example, poverty levels vary between near zero and 10 percent in various parts of Douala and Yaounde . Only about half of Cameroonian households have ready access to drinking water, less than half have electricity, and much of the housing is substandard (Ngwa and Fonjong, 2002; Mentan, 2003; Endeley and Sikod, 2007; Fonjong, 2007a, 2007b; Parrot, Sotenamou, and Dia, 2009; World Bank, 2013). The country’s economic problems focus many citizens’ attention on existential issues rather than environmental problems and provide incentives for government to focus attention on economic development, even at the expense of the environment. They also make raising funds for environmental NGOs from the local population quite difficult.

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