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Editorial: Hamsters on a wheel

The statistics presented in the report paint a bleak picture of the employment scene

Editorial: Hamsters on a wheel

The India Employment Report 2024

The India Employment Report 2024, which was recently released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Institute of Human Development (IHD), said the share of those with secondary or higher education among the unemployed youth has almost doubled from 35.2% in 2000 to 65.7% in 2022. Youngsters make up 83% of India’s unemployed workforce. The report says that the share of people employed in industry and manufacturing has remained the same since 2012 at 26% of the workforce. More troubling was the percentage of youth involved in economic activities, which dipped from 42% in 2012 to 37% by 2022.

The statistics presented in the report paint a bleak picture of the employment scene. Every year, around 70-80 lakh youths are added to the labour force, but between 2012 and 2019, there was almost zero growth in employment — just 0.01%. In 2022, unemployment was high among urban youth (17.2%) as well as rural youth (10.6%), while the female unemployment rate in urban areas was highlighted to be as high at 21.6 per cent.

The report offered the Opposition an opportunity to tear into the Centre’s job-related claims, reiterating that youth unemployment will be the defining issue in the Lok Sabha elections. Lambasting the ‘empty promises’ of providing 20 crore jobs in 10 years, while snatching over 12 crore jobs away from the youth, a senior Congress leader pointed out that the Modi regime had increased the percentage of low-paying informal-sector employment without social security, while formal employment decreased from 10.5% to 9.7% from 2019-22. Almost 90% of the workers remain engaged in informal work, and the share of regular work, which had increased steadily post 2000, declined after 2018. In rural areas, just 17.5 per cent of the youth are engaged in regular work.

The gender divide is a pain point as well, with the labour force participation rate (LFPR) of young men at 61.2% towering threefold over that of young women (21.7%). The reduced participation of women in the workforce has a lot to do with societal expectations and the burden of care vis-a-vis children and elderly. There are widespread livelihood insecurities as well, with only a small percentage of people being covered with social protection measures, specifically in the non-agriculture, organised sector. The average daily minimum wage prescribed by the government is Rs 480 for unskilled workers, but a large quantum of regular workers (40.8%) and casual workers (51.9%) did not earn as per these norms.

The shortcomings in upskilling, surprisingly in computer literacy were laid bare as 75% of the youth were unable to send email with attachments, and 90% were unable to insert a mathematical formula into a spreadsheet. Apart from the lack of opportunities, the unemployability of educated youth boils down to poor quality of education. Stakeholders have belaboured the point of separating development of skills from formal education. There are a few ways we can go about improving the situation: We could make production and growth more employment-intensive. We must improve the quality of jobs, and overcome labour market inequalities. Effective skilling and inclusive labour market policies that boost participation of women; decentralising MSMEs; creating opportunities in non-farm jobs and ensuring workers rights could go a long way in securing a formidable workforce in India.

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