Saudi Arabia's economic woes have been a boon for Hussein Shoboksi as he tries to meet a government push to hire more Saudi workers.

A few years ago, his family's 700-employee construction company barely had any Saudi employees, but they now account for more than 30 percent of his white-collar staff.

He still has only a few unskilled Saudi workers, but he thinks the bad economy will change that, too.

"The psyche is changing," he said. "People are lowering their expectations and realizing that they have to stay with the job. It had to come. It was a matter of time."

Unemployment is about 11 percent in Saudi Arabia, nearly twice what it was in the mid-1990s, according to Brad Bourland, chief economist for the Saudi American Bank. He estimates that the joblessness among Saudis 20 to 24 years old is about 26 percent.

Acknowledging such a problem has not been easy in a country that leapt from poverty to super wealth in only a few generations and quickly became accustomed to foreigners doing most of the work.

"Twenty years ago, the government was worried about getting enough foreign workers here. They are just now beginning to say we have to use our own workers better," said Bourland, whose jobless figures are based on three-year-old government reports.

The Saudi economy declined because of a population surge, from about 12 million in 1980 to more than 20 million in 2000, while oil revenue plummeted from about $100 million a year to $50 million. Per capita income of about $18,000 in 1981 has fallen to about $8,000, Bourland said.

As oil revenue shrank, the government was saddled with a hefty bill for the Persian Gulf War while it committed to ambitious plans to bring all the basics of a modern society to the nation.

With tens of thousands of students graduating yearly from Saudi Arabia's much-expanded university system, the government is hard-pressed to find enough jobs. And if the population doubles by 2020, as some experts predict, there is a fear that the job crunch will grow worse.

The government also aims to stem unemployment by easing out some foreign workers, who account for about 5 million of the more than 6.2 million employees in the private workforce.

As a result, the Saudis have passed a number of laws in recent years barring foreigners from certain jobs, forcing some into early retirement and requiring a 30 percent Saudi workforce for businesses with more than 20 employees.

Saudi officials in October decreed that within six months, foreigners would be barred from driving taxis. That means replacing about 50,000 drivers, who reportedly account for 90 percent of the nation's cabbies.

Because such figures are rare and often sketchy in this secretive kingdom, it is not clear who the Saudi unemployed are or how they are getting by.

Saudis suggest that some are children of well-to-do parents who are living off their family's oil money. Some, they suggest, are Saudis who cannot fathom the idea of serving somebody in public. And some, they say, are Saudis who simply do not have the skills for the available jobs.

"Despite the state's great concern for Saudization, this policy is clashing with obsolete education curricula, unproductive education methods and different social and cultural criteria," Wadea Ahmet Kabli, an economist at King Abdul Aziz University, recently wrote in the Saudi Gazette.

Some government officials say privately that the problem is caused largely by businesses. Many Saudi workers have the skills and talents, they explain, but companies prefer to hire foreign workers because they can pay them far less.

At JNP Co., a Cypriot construction firm with more than 500 employees based in Riyadh, Alkis Righas, a manager there, said he often has to pay Saudis three to four times what he gives foreign workers.

But having been cited recently for failure to hire enough unskilled local workers for construction jobs, Righas said he didn't mind paying higher wages to get Saudis. The problem, he said, is that many Saudis have yet to adjust to the mindset of blue-collar work.

"They will come and work for up to six hours, if they come to work at all," he said. "They come whenever they want, and they leave whenever they like. I have three Saudi security guards, and I see them for only a few hours a day."

At an upscale coffee shop recently in Riyadh, two Saudi businessmen lamented their inability to hire Saudis.

One, a businessman in his late thirties whose family owns a furniture business employing 400 workers, said his company has advertised in the newspapers and hired recruiters, but still has few Saudis on the payroll below the salesman level.

"I really would like to hire some Saudis, but I can't," said the businessman, who asked that his name not be used. "Saudis don't want to let it show that you are paying their salary."