Recently, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath claimed that since he took over, the state’s employment situation has improved substantially. He was reported as saying that before he took charge as chief minister, the unemployment rate was 17% but now it had come down to 4% or 5% only. This seems to be another assertion geared towards impressing voters and supporters before the upcoming Assembly elections in the state, slated for early next year. However, unemployment data published by the CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) over the years contradicts this assertion. CMIE periodically collects such data through sample surveys across the country and this is the only source of regular data on employment conditions available in India.
Rising Joblessness, Falling Labour Participation
In UP, the number of unemployed persons – those without jobs but willing to work – has risen from about 40 lakh in January-April 2017 to nearly 56 lakh in May-August 2021, as per CMIE’s latest reports. [See chart below]
This rise is reflected in the unemployment rate which went up from 3.75% to 4.84% in the same period. But, as the graph above shows vividly, for most of the period of Yogi Adityanath-led BJP rule in the state, unemployment has been much higher than what it was just prior to when the Yogi government took charge in March 2017. 2020 was mostly spent in lockdowns and fighting the pandemic, and the huge job losses are evident – the number of jobless persons rising up to over 90 lakh. But significantly, the rising trend began earlier, in 2018 itself and persisted through 2019, segueing into the lockdown induced economic collapse.
This blows up another myth that is being perpetrated by both Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in state governments, that “double engine” governance brings economic well being. By ‘double engine” it is meant that Central and state governments both are led by the same party, BJP. Prime Minister Modi has been repeatedly visiting UP of late and the “double engine” motif is doled out often, once being referred to as “the beauty of double engine development”, and at another time, while extolling the work done to support farmers.
The chart below shows another dimension of the dire employment situation. It shows how the proportion of people working in the whole working-age population has fallen from a not-too-good 38.4% in January-April 2017 (just when Yogi took over) to 34.9% in May-August 2021. This is different from the unemployment rate: it shows the extent to which people have lost hope and in frustration, opted out of the labour force itself.
A falling labour participation rate combined with a rising unemployment rate is an incendiary mix, indicating the depth of a pervasive economic crisis, that started before the pandemic and has since continued to devastate working peoples’ lives.
Within this larger picture, two details are noteworthy. One is the extent of youth joblessness and the other is the precipitous decline in women’s employment.
Searing Youth Unemployment
The chart below shows that the unemployment rate among youth in the age groups 20-24 years and 25-29 years has relentlessly risen since Yogi came to power in UP.
For young men and women between 25 and 29 years of age, the rate of unemployment has nearly doubled – from 8.8% to 15.9% - over the past four and a half years of the much-celebrated double engine government. In the other age group of 20-24 years, joblessness has increased from an already unconscionable 23.1% to a jaw-dropping 31.5% in the same period. These are the years when young people are coming out into the world, having finished their studies, and seeking jobs commensurate with their education and aspirations. The double engine government appears to have let them down very badly, with every third person in the 20-24 age group without work.
Women Suffered Most
Women appear to have borne the brunt of the misguided economic policies of the double engine government, with the unemployment rate among those women who are without jobs and willing to work rising steadily from mid-2018 (32%) to a mind-boggling 71% in the last months of 2020 when the state was reeling under the catastrophic second wave of the pandemic, and finally reaching 48% in May-August 2021, as per CMIE data. [See chart below]
Remember that these figures pertain to women who are willing to work, not to be confused with those women who are not in the labour market at all and report themselves as not willing to work. These high numbers indicate the deep distress being felt by families – to make ends meet, women are wanting to work and add to the family’s income, but pervasive joblessness forces them out of the job market.
During the pandemic in 2020, a large number of migrant labourers returned to UP and they would have added to the joblessness prevalent in the state. But that cannot acquit the double engine government of the widely held perception that it has failed miserably on the jobs front. After all, things were out of control since 2018, as the data given above clearly shows. And, with no concrete policy announcements for job creation, this widespread distress is bound to reflect in the coming electoral battle.