Whichever way one looks at the data, there is nothing much to crow about the 68th round of survey

Whichever way one looks at the key indicators of employment and unemployment released by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) recently, there is nothing much to crow about in inferences that can be drawn from the data collected in the 68th round of survey conducted during the period July 2011 to June 2012.

Coming as it does ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 — and the detailed reports of the sample survey are likely to be available when the elections are round the corner — the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) may well go to town highlighting the marked increase in the number of jobs created in its second term. The fact that nearly 14 million jobs were created in two years till January 2012 may be interpreted as a remarkable achievement, more so when the sharp increase in additional jobs came about at a time when the Indian economy was experiencing a downturn with the GDP growth slipping from 9.3 per cent in 2010-11 to 6.2 per cent in 2011-12.

But when juxtaposed with the fact that the UPA government, which has been swearing by its motto of inclusive growth and job creation, saw the creation of a mere one million additional jobs during its five-year tenure from 2004-05 to 2009-10, it exposes itself to the Opposition flak of jobless growth. Especially so when the BJP-led regime of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which sought to hail its five-year stint as ‘India shining’ — another matter that the slogan bombed at the hustings — actually added over 60 million jobs.

So, instead of starting a competitive debate to score brownie points on who did what — as has been witnessed many times earlier on GDP growth rate comparisons — it is high time that political parties indulge in the more constructive and serious business of taking the economy on a higher growth path and quality job creation to meet the aspirations of the educated youth while providing gainful employment opportunities to the rural folks.

In fact, the NSSO indicators are aimed at doing just that. While releasing the survey pointers on June 20, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation said: “The detailed results of surveys on employment and unemployment are usually brought out by the NSSO through a number of reports. In order to make available the salient results of the surveys, well in advance of the release of its reports, for use in planning, policy formulation, decision support, and as input for further statistical exercises, the NSSO has released the key indicators.”

Be that as it may, the survey indicators, based on the central sample of 1,01,724 households (59,700 in rural areas and 42,024 in urban areas) surveyed from 7,469 villages in rural areas and 5,268 urban blocks spread over all the States and Union Territories, has thrown up a slew of disconcerting facts.

First, what was the type of 13.9 million jobs added in two years (that ended on June 30, 2012) especially at a time of growth deceleration? How is it that alongside, the overall rate of unemployment during the period also rose and was more pronounced among women? If only primary work is taken into account, the unemployment rate went up from 2.5 per cent, or 9.2 million jobless persons in 2010, to 3.7 per cent, or 10.4 million in 2012. In the unemployed male category, the percentage rose from 2.2 to 3.4, while among women, the percentage was higher at 3.7 in 2012 as against 3.3 in 2010.

In the second category, which includes other work apart from the primary area of employment, the jobless rate for men went up marginally from two per cent in 2010 to 2.1 per cent in 2012, while for women it was 2.3 per cent and 3.4 per cent, respectively. Ostensibly, this category includes work under the national rural employment guarantee programme, which also goes on to reflect the quality of casual work on offer.

As if the fall in the labour force participation rate (LFPR) is not worrying enough, another disconcerting datum is the fall in this indicator among women. Perhaps owing to shrinking job opportunities at certain levels of education and consequent longer study periods for achieving higher qualification, or simply opting out of the job market, the LFPR fell from 40 per cent in 2009-10 to 39.5 per cent in 2011-12, with that for males at nearly 56 per cent and for females at 23 per cent . This is also corroborated by a survey by U.S.-based Gallup, which revealed that 54 per cent of the respondents were more pessimistic about landing jobs in India in 2012 as compared to the previous year.

This perhaps explains why there is an overall increase in the number of self-employed with this category growing from 51 per cent to 52 per cent of the employed workforce, especially among urban males and females, as formal jobs are not available for the asking.

Also for the first time, the overall employment in the farm sector, which accounts for about a quarter of GDP growth, fell from 50 per cent to 49 per cent, while manufacturing and services made up for 24 per cent and 27 per cent of the workforce, respectively. With agriculture providing only seasonal employment, the male workforce may be moving to urban areas for comparatively more stable wages and finding its way to the construction industry. Significantly, a steeper decline is witnessed among rural females as is evident from the workers’ population ratio (WPR) in that segment, declining from 26.1 per cent to 24.8 per cent, along with the number actually employed falling 2.4 per cent to 103 million from 106 million.

According to National Statistical Commission Chairman Pronab Sen, rural women are shifting towards self-help groups and self-employment, which is clear from the percentage of women taking up self-employment rising to 59 per cent in 2011-12 from 56 per cent in 2009-10. Also, it could also be that a large segment of rural women are not being categorised in the employable workforce in the WPR, as their activity may be designated as family household chores.

Clearly, the task before the government is laid out while its policy direction is on the right track. A shift from agriculture labour is welcome in terms of higher farm productivity. However, the labour moving out of the farm sector must be provided avenues of employment and this can be made possible by increasing manufacturing activity and raising the sector’s share in the GDP from about 15 per cent to 25 per cent, as per the programme under implementation.

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