Delhi is often called the city of dreams. People flock to the Capital for jobs, escaping the stagnation and misery of rural India or just looking to put their life on a better track. And, it must be said, that the metropolis and its adjacent areas do provide jobs to millions. But behind this benign façade, there is a harsh, invisible reality that is kept well hidden. Mainstream media remains silent, major political parties are mum, as are state and central governments.
This reality is that of not just mounting unemployment, but also the vast hidden or disguised joblessness is smothering the people, not unlike the toxic air.
Over 11% Jobless, Among Women Over 46%
First have a look at the joblessness. In just the past two years, unemployment rate has zoomed up from 2.2% in January 2018 to a staggering 11.2% in December 2019, according to latest CMIE estimates. [See chart below] Remember, Delhi has practically no agriculture. So it is not the usual farming crisis directly contributing to this high rate, although that crisis in the rest of the country may be contributing by pushing desperate job seekers to big cities.
If you go deeper, things get scarier. Among people who have studied up to class 10-12, the unemployment rate is a shocking 23%, as per the latest CMIE estimate for September-December 2019. That means every one person in four is unemployed in this particular group. Who are the people who would have studied up to this level only? Surely not the middle class and upper strata. It is predominantly the working people and lower middle class sections that are facing this distress. Even among graduates, the jobless rate is unconscionably high at nearly 17%.
Even more shocking is the unemployment rate among women who are willing to work and actively seeking jobs. It is at a high of 46%! That’s almost one in every two women. Remember: we are not talking about women who are not willing to work and preferring to remain at home to look after domestic duties. This is about women wanting work.
None of the three major parties have mentioned anything about this dire situation so far. Its early days yet, but going by past record, it is unlikely that unemployment will be actively discussed in the coming election campaign.
Low Wages/Salaries = Hidden Unemployment
No description of unemployment would be complete by only thinking about pure unemployment, that is, those who have absolutely no job of any kind and hence, no income. They would of course be dependent on their families for support.
But there is a vast army of people who are technically not ‘unemployed’ but are working on low wages or salaries just to stay afloat. These are not just industrial workers or rickshaw pullers or loaders-unloaders, or other people of that kind. Under-unemployed includes lakhs of people who work in private sector in a range of occupations from media offices to offices of companies, sales people, shop employees, security staff and so on.
A casual labourer in Delhi earned about Rs.376 per day in the first half of 2018, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) carried out by the National Statistical Organisation (NSO). That would work out to about Rs.9500 per month. For comparison, the minimum recommended salary for a govt. employee is Rs.18,000 per month according to the Seventh Pay Commission. And, that was for 2016. The PLFS estimation for regular or salaried employees is indeed about Rs.18,760. But this appears to be a gross over estimation because even the minimum wage notified by Delhi Govt. is about Rs.13,600. Surveys by trade unions show that not more than about 20% of workers/ employees would be getting this statutory standard. Many are working for 10 hours to get this much, which is an illegality. But that’s how they survive.
The precarious nature of jobs in Delhi is further evident from other information in PLFS report. Over two thirds of regular employees in Delhi have no written job contract. They can lose their livelihood in the blink of an eye. About 45% of them don’t get any paid leave. That means they lose a day’s earning if they take off for one day. 57% of regular workers have no provision of social security benefits like PF, ESI (medical insurance), gratuity, pension, etc. And, about a third of all regular workers don’t have any of these – job contract, paid leave, social security.
Who would want to work under such conditions? Only those who are finding no jobs that offer real support. They are desperate to get a job and end up as slaves of this kind. That’s disguised unemployment for you.
The billion dollar question is this: what is the electoral implication of this tragic condition of people, especially youth in the country’s capital? This is a complex issue with no easy answers. But indications are that Modi Govt. is primarily blamed for the economic distress that afflicts the whole country. Delhiites know the difference between state level issues and national ones. They voted for Modi twice, in 2014 and 2019, on that basis. So – it is likely that this pent up anger will vent against those who promised one crore jobs every year, in 2014.