Jordan has a mushrooming labor force. In 1997 the labor force stood at 1.2 million, a substantial increase from the 1991 figure of 525,000. The official unemployment rate stood at 15.5 percent in 1999. Half of the unemployed are under the age of 25, and many of these young people are unskilled. The country has a national literacy rate of 86.6 percent, and about 95 percent of the workforce under the age of 35 is literate. Many young graduates sadly find themselves without jobs, and those who do find employment are often very badly paid. It is likely that the real rate of unemployment is significantly higher than the official rate, and some estimates put it as high as 20 or 25 percent. According to the EIU Country Profile 2000, the largest percentage of the labor force, at 18 percent, work in crafts, only 14 percent of the labor force are professionals, and 14 percent of the labor force are plant and machine operators. In 1997, 158,097 people were employed by the public sector and their average monthly wage was US$310. There is also a substantial underground economy whose production is estimated at 3 percent of the GDP.
The Jordanian workforce is protected under labor laws enforced by Ministry of Labor inspectors. There is no minimum wage in Jordan, however, the government often assigns a minimum wage to certain trades based on recommendations made by unions. The maximum work week is 48 hours except in hotels, bars, and restaurants where employees can work up to 54 hours. Employment of foreign workers in Jordan is not permitted unless the employer is in need of the expertise and qualifications of a foreign employee. Arab technicians and experts are given priority over their foreign counterparts.