Who is Bearing the Burden of India's Rising Unemployment?

The burden falls disproportionately on the youth, the educated and the disadvantaged social groups – even more so on the women within these groups.

Latest employment data once again reinforces the distress about the job situation in India. The Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy reported a loss of 1.1 crore jobs in 2018 and estimated that the unemployment rate reached a 15-month high of 7.4% in December 2018.

The Labour Bureau also recorded a continuous rise in unemployment from 3.4% in 2014 to 3.7% in 2015 and 3.9% in 2016-17.

Rising unemployment poses a serious challenge, even more so because the brunt of joblessness falls more heavily on some groups.

The 2015 Labour Bureau Employment-Unemployment Survey throws some light on this.

The youth and the well-educated face the highest unemployment rates, as highlighted in Azim Premji University’s 2018 ‘State of Working India’ report.

The unemployment rate (usual principal and subsidiary status) among the youth (15-25 years) is 12.5%, much higher than any other age group (Graph 1).

Additionally, 13.8% of graduates and 12.6% of postgraduates (or higher) were unemployed – three to four times the overall unemployment rate (Graph 2). Clearly, the jobless growth regime has affected the young and the educated the most.

This unequal burden of unemployment becomes even more skewed within women. The unemployment rate for women aged 15-25 years was 16.3%, much higher than for men in the same age group.

The gap between male and female unemployment rates is even starker by educational category. Graduate women faced an unemployment rate of 30.6% as opposed to 9.9% among graduate men, and women with a postgraduate degree or higher faced an unemployment rate of 23.8% compared to 8.4% among men in the same educational category.

Also read: Fact Check: Javadekar Says India’s Job Numbers Are Low as Women Don’t Want to Work. True or False?

It is well-known that India’s female labour force participation is low and declining. To add to that, educated women who are looking for jobs, and are therefore in the labour force, find it difficult to get one.

The well-educated job seekers within the historically deprived social groups are at an even greater disadvantage in the labour market, compared to members of the forward castes with similar levels of education (Graph 3). The unemployment rate for the forward caste population holding at least a graduate degree is 10.5%, while the rate is 18.7%t for SCs, 15.7% for OBCs and 14.7% for STs.

Such exclusion in the labour market is a product of discrimination, even after attaining high levels of education. It is also the result of the disadvantages that the SC/ST/OBC groups continue to face in accessing human, social and cultural capital.

Educated women who belong to these groups face multiple barriers in accessing jobs because of their gender and caste location. The proportion of women looking for a job but unable to find one, in spite of having at least a graduate degree, is 34.3% among SCs, 32.4% among OBCs, 29% among STs and 24.3% among the forward castes – much higher than the overall average unemployment rate of 13.5% for graduate men and women together.

Also read: In India, Rising Joblessness is a Tinderbox Waiting to Catch Fire

Clearly, the burden of unemployment falls disproportionately on the youth, the educated and the disadvantaged social groups, and even more so on the women within these groups.

The high unemployment rates have to be seen in the context of the vacant seats in public sector institutions, particularly the reserved seats, as well as the underrepresentation of deprived groups in the higher echelons of government institutions. The Supreme Court judgement that faculty quotas in institutions be calculated department-wise and not for the entire university is likely to further reduce opportunities for educated youth from deprived sections seeking decent jobs.

Government surveys show that more people are enrolling in higher education than ever before.

In fact, more women enrolling in higher education is cited as one of the explanations for the low female labour force participation rate. The current students, particularly women and the disadvantaged social groups, many of whom struggle to complete their degrees, will face another daunting challenge when they enter the job market.

Anjana Thampi is research associate, Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. Ishan Anand is an assistant professor, Ambedkar University of Delhi.