The latest unemployment figures from the Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) show that in the winter 1387 quarter (2009-Q1) unemployment rose to 12.5%, from 11.9% in winter 1386. This is not a large increase but it does undermine the claim made by Mr. Ahmadinejad during the election debates that unemployment is on its way down. Unemployment is usually highest in winter, but last year the fall-to-winter increase was particularly fast: the unemployment rate rose by 3 percentage points in three months, from 9.5% to 12.5%.During the presidential debates, Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed that unemployment in 1387 was lower than the years before, a claim that SCI figures corroborate (10.4% in 1387 compared to 10.5% in 1386 and 11.3% in 1385, see a detailed SCI report here). Critics of Mr. Ahmadinejad pointed out that this decline may be due to the change in how unemployment is defined and measured, but these figures all come from the same source with the same definition.
In 1384 SCI moved from its Employment Survey to a more standard Labor Force Survey, which incorporated the International Labor Office (ILO) methodology. Among the changes was the definition of being employed, which changed from having worked at least two days last week to one hour. Critics charged that the declining unemployment rates are due to this change of definition. This is not true as the rates I quoted above all come from the new survey. I believe the difference between the two definitions amount to about 2 percentage points in the unemployment rate.
The question is if the recent increase in unemployment will persist into 1388. The first quarter data is due soon. The answer will reveal a complex set of effects, from those resulting from the liberal import policy of the last 2-3 years (Duch Disease) and from the more recent post-election crisis. I imagine that we will see a bit of both.