If ever there was a case of “Nero fiddling while Rome was burning” then India today is the best example. The country is going through one of its worst jobs crisis, well documented by several surveys and confirmed by reports flowing in from across the country in the midst of a bitter election campaign. Latest data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) yet again confirms this – unemployment rate stood at 7.4% for the week ended April 22, the highest in two years.
Yet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party (Bharatiya Janata Party), and all the Sadhvis and Yogis and pracharaks, are hopping from one election meeting to another supremely indifferent to unemployment. They talk about ‘protecting the country’ and ‘giving it back to the enemies’ and sing praises of the Balakot air strikes. But there is no mention of the widespread distress that is being inflicted on families whose sons and daughters are finding no jobs, after years of education.
CMIE’s data, collected from a sample survey, has emerged as the only source of regularly updated employment data in the country. The government has suppressed the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) for the first time last year, as a replacement for various Labour Bureau surveys.
The data shows that in May 2017, joblessness stood at 4%, which increased to 5.1% in May 2018, and has since zoomed to a record 7.41% in the third week of April this year.
Recently, the Association for Democratic Reform (ADR), an advocacy group for better governance and electoral reforms, released state-wise reports on governance issues for voters. In all the 36 reports, better employment opportunities were underlined as one of the top concerns.
Earlier, another CMIE analysis, drawing on its database of corporate returns, had pointed out that there was a steady fall in the rate of growth of compensation paid by companies to employees since 2013-14. Since all companies do not give employment numbers in their filings, compensation to employees is a ready proxy for growth in head-count of employed workers, according to CMIE.
“Compensation to employees grew by 25 per cent in 2013-14. The growth rate halved to 12 per cent in 2014-15 and then it fell further to 11 per cent in 2016-17. In 2017-18, the growth rate fell to 8.4 per cent. From this, it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to infer that the corporate sector’s appetite for new hiring has been declining quite sharply,” the CMIE analysis says.
What this does is blow up the myth propagated by Modi and his supporters that formal sector jobs have grown. They have been peddling this by wrongly relying on provident fund enrolment figures regularly put out by the Employees’ Provident fund Organisation (EPFO). These figures do not capture first-time employment and in fact indicate a high degree of instability with millions leaving the scheme every month even as millions of others are shown as signing up.
In the ongoing elections, it is likely that the severe unemployment crisis will be reflected in voters’ anger with the Modi regime, especially because of his promise of providing one crore jobs every year. Meanwhile, Modi and Co. go about blithely ignoring the harsh realities of real life.