Homeless people and migrant workers stand in queue for food at a shelter home in Delhi | Manisha Mondal| ThePrint
Homeless people and migrant workers stand in queue for food at a shelter home in Delhi | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Text Size:

While we wait to get a clearer picture of the health coronavirus curve in India, we already have the first estimate of the job-destruction caused by the nation-wide lockdown. The numbers are staggering, worse than anything the world has ever known. More jobs were lost in India in the last two weeks than anything ever recorded in economic history. The number of “precariat” in India today may be almost as large as the population of Russia.

These are startling claims, even for the unprecedented times that we live in. So let me explain, step by step.

Let us first understand the data source, the unemployment tracker survey released by Centre for the Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE), the only data source of its kind that reports unemployment on a daily, monthly and quarterly basis. The CMIE interviews every day about 3,500 randomly selected persons in its consumer survey. Post-lockdown, like everything else, the survey too came to a halt. They managed to do only 2,289 interviews in the last week of March. But the data was not released as the sample was too small and the week was rather unusual. Repeat field survey was not possible, but the CMIE field staff managed to do 9,429 telephonic interviews to collect the data for the week ending on 5 April. The sample was smaller than usual but large enough and fairly representative in terms of rural/urban, class and so on. These results were not different from the figures they got from the still smaller sample in the previous week. So, after due verification, this Monday, the CMIE released its first set of data and analysis.


Also read: Unemployment in March highest since September 2016, CMIE data shows fallout of Covid-19


The calculation

Now let us look at the data itself. Hidden behind a technical description of the latest findings is a real bombshell. Mahesh Vyas, the CEO and Director of CMIE, reports: “An unemployment rate of 23.4 per cent during this week; an LPR [labour participation rate] of 36 per cent and an employment rate of 27.7 per cent.” Now, over 20 per cent joblessness is bad news for any country. The real eye-popping figure, however, is that just 27.7 per cent of the working-age population is employed.

Let me simplify this. India currently has a population of about 137 crore. Of this, about 103 crore are in the working-age, above 15 years. Let us take the broadest definition of employment to include any kind of paid work, formal or informal – salary, daily wage or self-employment of any kind. Using this definition, in February 2020, pre-coronavirus pandemic and national lockdown, about 40.4 crore Indians were employed, as per the CMIE report for the month. At that point, 3.4 crore were unemployed.

Compare these to the figures from last week. The CMIE estimates that only 27.7 per cent of the working-age population (103 crore) was employed in the week after lockdown began. That works out to 28.5 crore. So, within two weeks, the number of gainfully employed has come down from 40.4 crore to 28.5 crore, a drop of 11.9 crore. (To be doubly sure, I rang up Mahesh Vyas and confirmed with him that I was drawing correct inference from his data.)

Let that sink in: about 12 crore Indians have lost employment over the last two weeks. Let us assume that 8 crore of these are the main or the only earner of their family. So, one-third of the country’s 25 crore households (government data from 2011) could be facing a livelihood crisis.


Also read: No paid leaves, lack of access to healthcare — world’s workers hit by coronavirus pandemic


Greatest in history

Let me put that in perspective. Unemployment in the US has made headlines over the last two weeks because nearly 10 million (or 1 crore) Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, breaking all records by some distance. And here we are talking about 12 crore job losses in India during the same period. Compare this with the Great Depression in the US. At its height, around 1932-33, there were about 1.5 crore unemployed persons. You could add all the unemployed in Europe at that time and yet not cross 5 crore. Indian lockdown has clearly caused the biggest one-stroke job-destruction ever recorded in history.

Let there be no confusion: this is not some definitional trick. We are talking real loss of real employment. The CMIE uses quite an inclusive definition of employment. All those who have a regular job or a job they can go back to are considered “employed”, even if they are not working or earning right now due to lockdown. So, all those with regular salaried job or contractual jobs, including those who are currently not working from home, are considered employed in this estimate. Similarly, professionals and shopkeepers who may be sitting idle at home during the lockdown would still be counted as employed. So would the farmers and agricultural labour.

Sure, this is not a permanent loss of livelihood. But this is not just a three-week break or leave. Some of them may be able to recover their jobs within days of the lockdown ending. Some may take months. And if the economy goes into a recession, which the IMF chief has already declared, many of those who have lost their jobs would never get it back.

Let me also underline that this conclusion is not based on a quirk or a blip in data. True, CMIE survey has differed from the NSSO figures on unemployment and many purists prefer the NSSO. But any issues with CMIE survey are besides the point here, since we are comparing two points within the CMIE data series. Besides, this is the second round of post-lockdown survey returning similar figures. Still, in a telephonic survey with a smaller sample, we have to allow for higher error. Assuming this survey has under-estimated employment by 2 percentage points, we are still looking at around 10 crore jobs lost.


Also read: Global economy could shrink by almost 1% in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic: UN


Mind-boggling unemployment crisis

The findings are consistent with what one should have expected even otherwise. There are about 11 crore non-farm wage earners, 6 crore self-employed and 2.5 crore salaried workers with insecure jobs (according to CMIE). News reports and common sense tells us that an overwhelming majority of these three categories have lost jobs.

Finally, let us not forget the 3.4 crore persons who were unemployed even before lockdown. Add their numbers to the 12 crore who lost their jobs after lockdown and we are staring at a figure upwards of 15 crore. Besides, many persons who may not have reported themselves jobless in this survey may find themselves without a job after the lockdown if many enterprises refused to take them back. Many self-employed persons like street vendors may not be left with the capital to restart their businesses. Many farmers, including dairy and poultry farmers, may need to shed workers if they fail to get remunerative prices. In sum: we could be looking at 15-20 crore Indians who face or may soon face livelihood crisis.

We do not yet know the scale of health crisis and how India might cope with it. But we do know that the crisis of unemployment is already mind-boggling. The Narendra Modi government must come up fast with a New Deal-type one-time booster to save livelihoods and lives.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.

Support Our Journalism

16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. Unemployment situation is worsening for last few years. This time covid19 has provided blanket under which unemployment situation for last few years will also be concealed.
    Coming policy of retirement in 55 years is not seem to allow new entrants to join offices but these posts will be redundant in lieu of advance technology. Current situation is that one job is created and 10 existing jobs are removed.

  2. I was working with Jet airways as a crew, my company got bankrupt last April 2019, till now I haven’t got a job. I tried for airlines also. If our government can do something for us that would be great.

  3. Covid19 or not, population of South Asia is 4 times what it’s land mass and Economy can support. Life must have been based on Economics, Science and Technology . Unfortunately India bases on Religion, Caste, Ethnicity, Ego and Jealousy. With all sorts of automation coming in viz. AI, ROBOTS, other machines in all sectors including agriculture hardly 15 crores job will be there meaning about 80 percent jobless (read mgnrega feeding people) . India style democracy has failed the country.

  4. Launched a centralized platform http://www.calmvid.com to find CORONA impacted job seekers, freelancers and start-ups at one place. Requesting all companies to start posting jobs at http://www.calmvid.com and help needy and immediately available resources.

    All job seekers who lost their jobs due to CORONA, please create your profile and start finding jobs. Many companies are giving preferences to you while hiring.

  5. The numbers quoted are distressing to say the least.
    However, the comparisons made with US or Europe etc are meaningless as they don’t take the base population into account. If it is taken as per million population on both sides a better understanding would arise.

    This seems to be an exercise to use statistics to prove a political point rather than bring about a better understanding of what we face. Rate as poor journalism.

  6. I have lost my job in lock down… Now my savings have finished.. In next 2 weeks of lock down how can I survive for food and House rent.. I don’t have Ration card… I am not getting any kind of help from government.. Our local Parshad is not worried of local people.. Parshad only supports his loved people.. Parshad have no communication about government help with the local…

    • Even I have lost my job yesterday was working in an IT company have started applying for a new job and also consulting recruiters what to do

  7. I lost my job and my friend company told them they cant give sallaries during lockdown.now this is bullshit .we have bills to pay but during these crisis neither government nor private firms supporting middle class employees.

  8. What kind of comparison is this -India’s population is 4 times US and more than 10 time US population when the great depression occured so quote any number and create headlines!

    • Why is the comparison not apt ?
      If you were comparing population why not compare the impact on corona on USA vs India because that’s an important point. They’ve been the hardest hit in the world and YET they are going through an employment crisis.

      We haven’t even had half of what they had and yet our numbers are much more, remember we are not the superpower they supposedly are.

      With the population logic and for how long its been around why isn’t our curve as high (don’t say lockdown) we have 400 million people who dont even have access to clean water and I can go on and on.

      In this case particular I think the comparisons are apt

  9. What kind of analysis is this. If we had no lockdown, he would have been writing- India has lost more lives than US in World War II due to not doing a lockdown

    • Why is the comparison not apt ?
      If you were comparing population why not compare the impact on corona on USA vs India because that’s an important point. They’ve been the hardest hit in the world and YET they are going through an employment crisis.

      We haven’t even had half of what they had and yet our numbers are much more, remember we are not the superpower they supposedly are.

      With the population logic and for how long its been around why isn’t our curve as high (don’t say lockdown) we have 400 million people who dont even have access to clean water and I can go on and on.

      In this case particular I think the comparisons are apt

  10. 3.3 million Americans filed unemployment claims in the first week, 6.6 million in the next. In a couple of days, we will get the figure for week three. In the 2008 GFC, job losses were 8.7 million. India does not have such precise data and the government would not make public what it has. What is safe to say is that the economy and employment have been hit by an ICBM. The party spokespersons now have six years’ experience in denying the obvious on TV each evening.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here