In 1991 some 1.95 million people were regularly employed outside the home in Tajikistan. However, about 2.4 million Tajikistanis were classified as being of working age. Of those who worked outside the home, 22 percent were employed in industry; 43 percent in agriculture; 18 percent in health care and social services; 6 percent in commerce, food services, state procurement, and "material-technical supply and sales"; 5 percent in transportation; 2 percent in the government bureaucracy; and 4 percent in miscellaneous services.

In the 1980s, light industry continued to employ the largest proportion of industrial workers, 38.6 percent. The processing of food and livestock feed employed an additional 11.7 percent. Machine building and metal-working employed 19.7 percent. Three of Tajikistan's main areas of heavy industrial development employed rather small proportions of the industrial work force: chemicals and petrochemicals, 7.4 percent; nonferrous metallurgy, 5.4 percent; and electric power, 2.4 percent.

One of the most serious economic problems in the late 1980s and early 1990s was unemployment. Unemployment and underemployment remained extensive after the civil war, and the republic's high birth rate led observers to predict that the number of unemployed people would continue to grow through 2000. Tajikistan's designation in the Soviet economy as primarily a producer of raw materials meant that until 1992 agriculture was expected to provide the bulk of employment opportunities for the population. However, the limited amount of arable land and the fast growth of the rural population made further absorption of labor impossible by the 1990s (see Agriculture, this ch.). Although Tajikistan had the resources to increase its production of consumer goods, Soviet economic planning did not develop as much light industry in the republic as the human and material resources could have supported. Two of Tajikistan's largest industrial complexes, which produced chemicals and aluminum, were capital-intensive and provided relatively few jobs.

Unemployment is a particular problem for the republic's young people. Roughly three-quarters of the graduates of general education middle schools (which most students attend) do not go on to further education (see Education, this ch.). Upon entering the job market with such basic qualifications, many cannot find employment. A disproportionate number of young Tajikistanis enter low-paying manual jobs; in 1989 about 40 percent of the agricultural labor force was below age thirty. By the end of the Soviet era, however, a growing number of Tajikistan's young people could not find employment even in agriculture. The paucity and low quality of schools at the vocational level and higher schools prevented those institutions from improving the employment prospects of large numbers of potential workers. In the 1980s, a Soviet campaign to shift labor into "labor deficit" regions in the European republics or in Siberia met with vocal opposition.

With skilled workers leaving the country in the mid-1990s, industrial and professional jobs, most notably in engineering, often go unfilled. Shortages have been especially acute in light industry, construction, health care, transportation, engineering, and education. The exodus of qualified workers intensified in the early 1990s. In 1992 and 1993, an estimated 123,000 specialists with higher education, mostly Russians, left Tajikistan.

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