10 years of Modi: Distressed youth face unprecedented unemployment

Youth constitute 83 pc of unemployed Indians

Politics

May 31, 2024

/ By / New Delhi

10 years of Modi: Distressed youth face unprecedented unemployment

83 pc of the unemployed in India are youth

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes 10 years in power, Media India Group launches this series of report cards, analysing Modi’s performance on various parametres, beginning with employment generation, which was one of the biggest planks used by Modi in 2014 and 2019 elections. Yet, the government has failed miserably on this count as unemployment, especially amongst the youth, reaches unprecedented levels.

4.9/5 - (18 votes)

Ten years ago, when he was first campaigning for Lok Sabha elections, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, had picked up unemployment, especially amongst the youth, as one of his key issues, pretty much in synch with the rest of the topics on his agenda, which was highly focussed on the youth.

At almost every poll meeting in 2014, Modi and his fellow leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party raked up the issue of a rapidly growing population of the youth entering the job markets and that to respond to this need, the BJP would create 20 million new jobs every year.

A decade has since passed, with Modi at the helm, yet as he seeks his third term as Prime Minister, unemployment is not only a burning issue during the elections, but Modi has been under fire from the opposition for his poor performance on this key indicator. Let alone having created 200 million new jobs in India, which ought to have been achieved in the 10 years of his rule, the country is staring at unprecedented levels of unemployment, especially amongst the youth.

According to India Employment Report 2024 by International Labour Organisation (ILO), released in March, 83 pc of the unemployed in India are youth and that total unemployment across the country had reached 6.1 pc, the highest in past 45 years.

Coming just before the elections, the report created a furore and was quickly picked up by the opposition parties that had been railing against Modi. In response, the Indian government objected to the ILO over the report, questioning what it said were inconsistencies in data sets and misinterpretation of data on youth employment. The government also accused ILO of ignoring international mobility as well as gig and platform workers data.

Surjit Bhalla

Surjit Bhalla

In a recent interview with The Economic Times, Modi claimed that there had been significant job growth, but instead of citing job creation or unemployment data, preferred to cite the tax returns filed by individuals. “Look at the indicators which prove the job generation. The returns filed by individual taxpayers more than doubled from 33.6 million in 2013-14 to 81.8 million in 2023-24,” Modi told the business newspaper.

Modi was not the only one to claim significant job growth in his regime. Surjit Bhalla, a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, claimed that an unprecedented number of jobs are being created under the Modi government “The job creation by the Modi government has been the highest on record. Never before in Indian history have so many jobs been created on an average basis. Something close to 10 million jobs over the last 7-8 years,” Surjit Bhalla told PTI, a news agency, in a video interview.

But not many voters, especially the youth, seem to be buying the official line.

“If employment has truly increased, where are these supposed 10 million new workers? I have been unemployed for years, and everyone I know is facing the same struggle. What employment creation are they talking about,” Atul Kumar, a resident of Sarita Vihar in South Delhi, tells Media India Group.

According to ILO in 2022, the unemployment rate among graduates in India was strikingly high at 29.1 pc, nearly nine times greater than the 3.4 pc among those who were illiterate. ILO also pointed out that ironically youth unemployment has increased with higher levels of education, peaking among those with graduate degrees or higher. Additionally, the report highlights that the unemployment rate is higher among women compared to men.

“Every time the government talks about job growth, I can’t help but wonder where are these jobs? I have been sending out resumes left,  right and centre, but with no luck, and it is the same story for my friends and family. The reality on the ground doesn’t match the government’s rhetoric,” Sunita Singh, a resident of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, tells Media India Group.

The ILO report says that while the proportion of educated youth in India rose from 18 pc in 2000 to 35 pc in 2022, their participation in economic activities declined from 52 pc to 37 pc over the same period. Although the overall youth unemployment rate in India decreased from 88.6 pc in 2000 to 82.9 pc in 2022, the unemployment rate among educated young Indians increased from 54.2 pc to 65.7 pc, says the report.

In 2019, the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy, a private institution that tracks Indian economy, also raised an alarm, saying that the number of unemployed people had been rising steadily and had reached 11 million by the end of December 2018.

Even according to government’s own data, India’s unemployment rate climbed to 6.1 pc in 2017-18, the highest in 45 years. The Periodic Labour Force Surveys done by the government show it further rose to 20.8 pc in April-June 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic before dropping to 3.2 pc in 2022-23, nearly half of the 2017-18 levels.

Despite launching the ‘Make in India’ initiative in 2014 and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in 2020 to bolster manufacturing, touted as a labour-intensive sector in both manifestos, job opportunities in manufacturing have halved between 2016 and 2021. Reports reveal a downward trend predating the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the BJP’s 2014 manifesto also highlighted the ‘job generating potential’ of the infrastructure and housing sector, data from the National Sample Survey Office shows a modest increase from 10.6 pc of India’s workforce in construction in 2011-12 to 13 pc in 2022-23, according to the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey. Despite this growth, with over 70 million Indians currently employed in the construction sector and an anticipated rise to 100 million by 2030, the sector still grapples with challenges in providing sustainable employment opportunities.

“Leaving my village with dreams of a better life in Delhi, I never imagined I would end up back where I started. With an MBA in hand, I thought opportunities would be endless. However, reality hits hard with no government job, no private sector offers. Now, faced with empty promises and closed doors, I am left with no choice but to return home and join my father in farming. It is not what I wanted, but when the world offers nothing else, sometimes going back to the roots is the only way forward,” Prasant Shah, who moved to Delhi from Garhwa in Jharkhand in search of a job, tells Media India Group.

“Five years have passed since I earned my degree from NIT, yet the promise of employment remains elusive. The government speaks of opportunities but for me, it has been a journey marked by unemployment and uncertainty. At times, I can’t help but question if my years of study were in vain, if I have wasted precious time chasing a dream that feels increasingly out of reach,” Shivam Kumar, who graduated in Mechanical Engineering from NIT in Nagpur tells Media India Group.

Another indicator, albeit indirect of low job creation is the number of people employed in farming sector as most people in the rural areas have traditionally been involved in agriculture. Thus, data shows that while the share of India’s workforce in agriculture declined from 58.5 pc to 48.9 pc between 2004-05 and 2011-12 under the Congress rule, the trend has reversed in recent years.

Despite a temporary slowdown with a share of 42.5 pc in 2018-19, it rose to 45.5 pc in 2021-22, signalling a concerning shift back to agricultural employment. This trend is exacerbated by increasing youth unemployment, as many jobless youths are returning to agriculture for livelihood, highlighting the pressing issue of rising unemployment.

Mahesh Vyas

“India’s biggest challenge has been a slowdown in investments since 2011-12, then, since 2016, we have suffered too many economic shocks in quick succession. The currency ban, GST and intermittent lockdowns all reduced employment,” Mahesh Vyas, CEO of CMIE said in an interview in January.

According to a research paper by four economists at the World Inequality Lab, which was released on March 19, inequality in India is worse under Modi than it was under the British. Between 2014-15 and 2022-23, the rise of top-end inequality has been particularly pronounced in terms of wealth concentration and India’s top 1 pc income share is among the very highest in the world, higher than even South Africa, Brazil and the United States.

With no jobs in private sector in sight, thousands of youth have focussed on obtaining a government job as it is perceived to be more secure. Every job announcement in any government department and at any level, even at pantry or peon’s level, attracts tens of thousands of applications, from highlight overqualified people.

Many others put years of preparation in order to qualify in the highly competitive entrance examinations for various openings in government jobs.

“For the past two years, my life has been consumed by the relentless pursuit of government jobs. I have poured every ounce of my being into preparation, sacrificing both day and night to the cause. Yet, as exams draw near, the landscape of opportunity shifts unpredictably. Vacancies dwindle, exams are cancelled, and the wait for results stretches into eternity. It is a confusing cycle of hope and disappointment, leaving me questioning the very essence of this journey,” Zainab Bint Tariq, a resident of Zakir Nagar in Delhi, tells Media India Group.

“Each time a government post is announced with just five or 10 vacancies, thousands of hopeful youths swarm to apply. This staggering influx of applicants serves as a stark indicator of the immense unemployment crisis gripping our nation. It is a revelation of the dire employment landscape we face in India, where opportunities are scarce, and competition is fierce,” she adds.

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