According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) employment report, the unemployment rate in February, 2019 was 7.2%, the labor force was down 25.7 million since September, 2016 and the number of employed persons had declined by 18.3 million in the same period. The report further stated that the labor participation rate – comprising those over 15 years of age that are either employed or unemployed but actively looking for a job – has ironically been falling.
In short, more and more people are unemployed and yet there is a decrease in the number actively looking for work, thereby indicating a total lack of job opportunities as well as peoples’ trust in the job market. And to add to it, these numbers do-not factor in underemployment, which may be an even bigger problem staring us in the face.
Before going into how this problem can be tackled, I want to dwell a bit on why it should be. Though it may appear very elementary to be even discussed, yet I feel that in the present time, it is important for us to keep on revisiting and refreshing our memories about the urgent need to deal with the issues of unemployment and underemployment. This is so because despite being a burning issue and an immediate concern for significant number of people, it failed to become an important electoral issue to warrant a meaningful discussion. Political parties could have been pressurized to formulate and discuss concrete roadmaps on how they planned to address this issue, as also, held accountable for their previous lapses in addressing the same. However, the entire election debate was centered on emotional propaganda – with livelihood issues not even in the zone of consideration, at least for the ruling party.
So why is it important to provide employment to people? This is because electing a ‘strong’ government does-not mean a magical end to all of the nation’s problems. And being able to get elected into power, with overwhelming support, also does-not mean a lifetime guarantee of such support.
In the modern world, money is required by each and every individual to fulfil all their needs, beginning from the very basic ones – food, shelter and clothing. The only long-term and sustained solution for this is that sufficient employment opportunities – comparable to skill levels – be available at all times, so that individuals can take care of their needs. In the absence of such opportunities, an individual may be forced to earn a livelihood using means considered as illegal and illegitimate in a civilized society. Such means may not only include stealing, robbery, kidnapping, killing etc. but also the currently popular trolling, abusing and threatening those whose viewpoints may not be similar to yours – even with death. If employment takes such a form then even the strongest of leaders and the most patriotic of citizens may not be able to save such a nation from imploding.
Now coming to how to address the unemployment issue – whether through employment generation measures or through minimum income guarantee schemes – or a combination of both. NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana) was one such scheme which was promised by the Congress party if elected to power. It proposed to cover five crore poorest families (25 crore people) by assuring them a guaranteed minimum monthly minimum income of Rs. 6000 per month. This scheme did-not talk about employment generation but was meant to be more of a social welfare measure. MGNREGA, on the other hand, ‘aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work’ . MGNREGA, thus, aims at employment generation – though through unskilled manual labor, (the current resource crunch and compulsory linkage with Aadhaar is making the effective implementation of the Act impossible at present).
Various schemes were recently launched with the combined aims of employment generation, skill development, indigenous manufacturing and women and youth empowerment. Some of these are Prime Minister Mudra Yojana (PMMY), Make in India, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (Skill India Program) etc. Let us discuss one of these schemes in some detail. ‘The salient features of the PMMY inter alia include extending institutional finance by providing loans up to Rs. 10 lakh for manufacturing, processing, trading, services and activities allied to agriculture’ (Mitra, 2019). Up until May 25, 2018, 12,90,73,857 people were given loans under the scheme, however, the average loan amount was only Rs. 45, 034. This amount is evidently not enough to launch a start- up, leave alone start a business which could generate further employment. Similar has been the fate of the other schemes ostensibly launched with at least one of their aims being to boost employment generation, yet to no avail. On the contrary, India’s unemployment rate hit a 45 year high in 2017-18.
What is then the solution to this burgeoning issue? As is evident, only a multi-pronged strategy can work, even if a small dent is to be made to this problem. First and foremost, there needs to be a sincere acknowledgement that a serious problem in fact stares us in the face, which if not tackled actively and purposefully, can lead to severe consequences. And a sincere acknowledgment would require the data to be captured properly and shared widely so that the magnitude of the problem becomes clear. Secondly, the discussions and deliberations will need to be widened wherein the issues being faced by different groups in society will need to be understood and then discussed widely within all the stakeholders, experts and the government in order to work towards a sincere, equitable and implementable solution. Thirdly, due to the scale of the problem, it is clear that employment generation measures and social welfare measures (guaranteeing basic minimum income, such as NYAY), will need to go hand in hand – the primary role being played by the government and the public sector – delegating this to the private sector has not worked in the past and will not work in the future as well. Fourthly, much work will also need to be done in associated areas – education, skill development, health, provision of equal opportunities to all, working towards eradication of discrimination based on caste, class, religion, gender etc. and so on and so forth. Lack of employment opportunities needs to be stopped being looked at in isolation – rather a holistic approach is urgently required if this issue – and all the related issues – has to be resolved. Fifthly, it is also essential that not only are employment opportunities available, but they are also available in consonance with the skills, aptitudes, choices and qualifications of individuals. Underemployment and disguised unemployment are even bigger issues that are being faced by people today. Graduates and post-graduates cannot be expected to employ themselves in selling ‘pakodas’ and count themselves lucky to be employed in the first place. This mindset and predilection for over-simplification and symbolism needs to urgently go.
There is no contesting the fact that in the long run, only educated as well as gainfully and satisfactorily employed youth of a nation can take it forward. If this does not happen then the energies of the youth will be forced to be channelized in all the wrong directions, places from where coming back shall become increasingly difficult and next to impossible. The time to act is fast slipping by – if we don’t act now, it just might be way too late.