India: False Alarm On Unemployment Scenario – OpEd

With the Indian parliamentary election commencing shortly, the critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have claimed that India is sitting on a “ticking bomb” of joblessness . The critics have further said that each year, around 7 to 8 million youth are added to the labour force in India, but between 2012 and 2019, there was almost zero growth in employment – just 0.01%!

ILO Report

Those advancing such alarming view on unemployment scenario in India are citing the report released recently by International Labour organisation (ILO) on “Indian employment report 2024”.

The ILO report said that 83% of jobless Indians are youth and only 17.5% of youth in rural areas are engaged in regular work. Further, the ILO report said that the share of people employed in industry and manufacturing has remained the same since 2012 at 22% of the total work force. Further, the report goes on to say that the percentage of youth involved in economic activities decreased from 42% in 2012 to 37% by 2022.

Misinformed conclusion

A careful observer of Indian industrial, economic and social scenario in a holistic manner, whether living in India or visiting India for a short or extended period, cannot but see that there is growth in the country in multiple directions in the last ten years after Mr. Modi has assumed charge as Prime Minister of India. Such people would only react to the contents of the report of International Labour Organisation and views of the critics of Modi government with a pinch of salt and inevitably conclude that such views of ILO and critics are misinformed with conclusions arrived at carelessly.

In a densely populated country like India with 1400 million people in various age groups and predominantly youth population, if there were to be such severe level of joblessness as stated in the above report, then certainly riots would have taken place on streets all over India. However, the truth is that country has largely been remaining peaceful and with people belonging to various age groups participating in multiple festivals, cultural and sports events with great enthusiasm. Obviously, if there were to be such extensive level of joblessness which would inevitably create huge economic hardships amongst cross section of families in India, there would not be such active participation of people in socio, cultural and sports activities. Certainly, there is no evidence of such large scale economic distress feelings among people.

Further, there is a scheme known as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which is in operation to ensure that there would be no joblessness in India. In the period April 2022 to March 2023, 84 million people worked under the scheme and 2728 million days of work was generated.

Modi government has launched an extensive skill development programme and several thousands of youth have been trained in this programme to enable them to take up skill oriented job opportunities. Thousands of persons who have undergone such training are now employed or self employed.

Employment exchange as data source

The employment exchanges in India could be the source for information on employment scenario in the country.

There are around 1005 employment exchanges in India and 42 are special employment exchanges for differently abled persons. 14 employment exchanges for professionals and executives and 5 employment exchanges exclusively for women.

One can expect that anyone desperately seeking a job or remaining jobless would register with the employment exchanges and therefore, the number of registration in employment exchange could be a reasonably reliable source of information on overall job scenario in the country.

The number of persons registered under employment exchanges in India was 6.186 million in 2010, which rose to 9.722 million in 2012. However, it declined to 6.939 million in 2015. Thereafter, the fall in registration is consistent till the year 2020 when only 2.073 million people registered.

It is common knowledge that most people in India prefer government jobs due to various advantages and perks associated and such people think that employment exchange could provide them avenue for getting government jobs. Therefore, it can be seen that many people who are registered their names with employment exchange, could be jobseekers in government and not really jobless people and or otherwise employed. In some cases, there may be a chance of duplication of registrations. The employees do not always intimate the employment exchange , even if they get job in private sector.

It is not clear whether ILO has relied on the figures from employment exchanges in India to ascertain their joblessness number in India or has ILO ignored this data?

Vague views on joblessness

The critics do not seem to have any figures that are reliable to talk about the extent of joblessness. They simply rely on ILO data which seem to enthuse them and give out some “impressive figures”.

Look at some of the views expressed to indicate joblessness. A professor has said in a letter published in a leading English newspaper that number of students who would come to him and offer sweets on getting a job after passing, have now declined drastically. This professor says that this shows the level of unemployment.

Another person has said in letter published in print media that till a few years ago, the advertisement for job vacancies covered about 4 to 5 pages in newspapers. But, the number of such pages has now declined to one page or even less in newspapers, “proving ” joblessness in the country. This person has ignored the fact that with social media expanding enormously in India and print media readership coming down, many job offers are published online and several online portals are available for this purpose. Even many companies do not publish advertisement in newspapers in a big way due to soaring advertisement cost and they look for other alternate ways for publishing their requirements.

What is the methodology adopted by ILO?

Under the circumstances, it has become necessary to question the methodology adopted by ILO for assessing the joblessness in India and a discerning thinker may doubt the veracity of the figures published by ILO.

If one were to talk to any employer in India whether at large, medium or small level or even at small vendors level, many of them would have pointed out about the difficulties in getting suitable personnel for employment at different level. Particularly, in the organised sector, many employers have pointed out about the attrition level of employees, with employees often leaving one job to jump to another whenever opportunities arise.

It is also doubtful as to whether those who have formulated ILO report have confused under employment scenario with unemployment scenario in the country. When talking to so called “underemployed” people , most of them could have said that they are wanting what they perceive as better and higher paying jobs and they may have expressed their frustration about not realising their job aspirations. Such frustration on the job front is a very common phenomenon amongst employees all over the world. Such under employed people may consider themselves as job seekers but certainly not jobless entities. Has ILO considered this aspect?

Possibly, ILO has carried out the study on employment scenario in India by adopting sort of random sample survey methodology. In a vast country like India with around 1.4 billion people, a sample survey may be appropriate to some extent in ascertaining the broad views of the people on any theme just like the method adopted for poll surveys. Even in such cases, the survey results are often found to be providing misleading information and conclusions. In such circumstances, conducting a random sample survey to ascertain the level of joblessness in India is bound to end up as a survey conducted in vacuum, particularly considering the large population of the country and traditional and thousands of family oriented job avenues and informal job opportunities available for people who choose to remain self employed, even may be at small level. Has ILO considered this aspect while conducting the survey?

If ILO were to think that it could publish figures based on such random sample survey, which inherently is unreliable and could be misleading, then in that case, ILO can be criticised as releasing certain sensitive data without an element of responsibility and caution and without weighing the consequences of publishing such vague data and creating a false alarm of joblessness in India.

ILO’s release of report at this time, when a national election will take place in India, is particularly perplexing.