The labor force was estimated at 465,000 in 1981, but only 45,000 wage earners were reported in 1980, indicating that a vast number of people are employed in subsistence agriculture. By occupation, agriculture employed 47 percent, services 39 percent, industry 14 percent. Mass exodus to cities, low economic growth, and a growing uneducated young population are generating unemployment while there is a shortage of skilled workers, technicians, and managers in most sectors. The unemployment rate was officially 23 percent in 1995. But fully 50 percent of high school and university graduates are unemployed due to government hiring restraints and the stagnating private sector .
Workers have the right to associate and strike, but strikes are rare. There are 3 union confederations, Union of Mauritanian Workers (UTM), General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM), and Confederation of Free Mauritanian Workers (CLTM). An employer-employee agreement, the 1974 Collective Labor Convention, establishes many employee benefits, including paid maternity leave. The workweek is 40 hours and the minimum wage is revised periodically by the unions, the employers, and the government. In 1998, the minimum wage was US$54 per month but in the private sector it was US$81.