False Alarm on Unemployment Scenario in India

ILO's release of the report at this time, when the national election would take place in India, is particularly perplexing.

by N.S.Venkataraman

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 labor force in India, but between 2012 and 2019, there was almost zero growth in employment – just 0.01%!

Lok Sabha election 2024

ILO Report:

Those advancing such alarming views on the unemployment scenario in India are citing the report released recently by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the “Indian Employment Report 2024.”

The ILO report has 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 has said that the share of people employed in industry and manufacturing has remained the same since 2012 at 22% of the total workforce. 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 the 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 the International Labour Organization and views of the critics of the 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 1.4 billion people in various age groups and predominantly youth population, if there were to be such severe levels 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 the country has largely been remaining peaceful, 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 an extensive level of joblessness, which would inevitably create huge economic hardships among a 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 among people.

Further, there is a scheme known as the 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 workers worked under the scheme, and 2,728 million person-days of work were generated.

The Modi government has launched an extensive skill development program, and several thousands of youth have been trained in this program 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 of information on the employment scenario in the country.

There are around 1,005 employment exchanges in India, and 42 are special employment exchanges for differently-abled persons. Fourteen employment exchanges are for professionals and executives, and five employment exchanges are 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 registrations in employment exchanges could be a reasonably reliable source of information on the 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 until 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 the employment exchange could provide them with an avenue for getting government jobs. Therefore, it can be seen that many people who are registered their names with employment exchange could be job seekers in the 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 a job in the 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 reliable figures to talk about the extent of joblessness. They simply rely on ILO data, which seems 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 the number of students who would come to him and offer sweets on getting a job after passing out have now declined drastically. This professor says that this shows the level of unemployment.

Another person has said in a letter published in the 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 advertisements in newspapers in a big way due to soaring advertisement costs, 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 a large, medium, or small level, or even at a small vendor’s level, many of them would have pointed out about the difficulties in getting suitable personnel for employment at different levels. Particularly in the organized 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 the ILO report have confused underemployment 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 realizing their job aspirations. Such frustration on the job front is a very common phenomenon amongst employees all over the world. Such underemployed 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 the employment scenario in India by adopting a 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 a 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 a 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 criticized 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 the report at this time, when the national election would take place in India, is particularly perplexing.

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause and to promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.