Even when the economic growth is high, growth in employment is subdued in India, under the current situation of low growth, problem of unemployment, especially among youth, is severe. The estimates of magnitude of youth unemployment vary widely or are non-existent due to lack of reliable data both at macro and micro level. Youth are defined as those aged 15 to 29 in the national youth policy (2014). This age group constitutes 27.5% of India’s population. The 2011 Census counted 563 million young people from 10 to 35, according to the 12th Five Year Plan. United Nations considers youth as those in the age group of 15-24 years. Youth employment is a high priority area for both the State and Central governments. States like Telangana gave highest priority to jobs in its emphasis on ‘Neellu, Nidhulu, Niyaamakaalu (water, funds and jobs). Central government schemes like the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA) for funding the unfunded, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) for imparting vocational education for youth, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gramin Kaushal Yojana (DDU-GKY) for creating employment opportunities for rural youth are being implemented since 2015. However, the working and impact of these schemes is not yet known due to lack of reliable data.
Unemployment among educated youth
Recently, employment statistics in India revealed conflicting figures. While the government cites payroll data to claim significant job creation, some other studies cite the NSSO report that pegged unemployment in 2017 at 6.1%, which if true would be the highest rate in 45 years. Worker-population ratio among youth between 15-24 years has significantly declined either due to enrolment in higher education or due to lack of employment opportunities, which needs to be further examined. Unemployment is higher among youth in India (13.5%) than those over 30 years of age (1.5%) as per the NSSO 2016 report. Nearly 35% of youth who possess graduate degrees and above are unemployed, while unemployment is low among uneducated young workers (6.2 per cent unemployment) in India. A highly educated Indian youth is more than five times as likely to be unemployed as an uneducated one. A recent Azim Premji University report also narrated a frightening picture on state of working population in India based on the CMIE-CPDX data. Among urban women, graduates are 10% of the working age population, but 34% of unemployed. The age group 20-24 years is hugely over-represented among unemployed. Among urban men, this age group accounts for 13.5% of the working age population, but 60% of the unemployed.The high unemployment among higher-educated probably indicates that there are not enough jobs created for educated or this also indicates that the skills acquired during education do not match the jobs offered by the industry and government.
Youth employment conditions
Once in employment, youth often work in the informal sector or in poor quality jobs. Though there are some positive signs as well — the extreme working poverty rate (i.e. living on less than US$1.90 in PPP terms) for youth is estimated to have more than halved from 34.1 per cent in 2007 to 14.2 per cent in 2017 but it is still high compared to other countries. Increasingly, young workers are found in non-standard employment, such as short-term, casual and task-based manual contract work or employment without written contracts. Poor youth are forced to work for their subsistence consumption requirement under shabby work conditions, whereas youth from rich families can afford to go to higher educational institutions and invest in skills, perpetuating inter-generational inequalities. Almost half of the rural youth are self-employed in low productive activities.
Vulnerable employment is defined as the sum of the employment status groups of own account workers and contributing family workers. They are less likely to have formal work arrangements, and are therefore more likely to lack decent working conditions, adequate social security and ‘voice’ through effective representation by trade unions and similar organizations. Vulnerable employment is often characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity and difficult conditions of work that undermine workers’ fundamental rights. In India, vulnerable employment is estimated to account for 79.2 per cent of total employment (ILO, 2018). The share of informal employment in total employment was 81.9 per cent, while the share of informal employment in non-agricultural employment was 66.1 per cent in 2012. The share of youth in informal and vulnerable employment is much higher. The key proposal in the Code on Wages Bill, 2019 tabled on July 23 is a mandatory national wage floor (minimum wage) which will be binding on the States and will be beneficial to youth. It aims to set standards of minimum wages across the industry, including small businesses, which employ nearly 90% of India’s workforce.
Shift from rural to urban
Over the last few decades or so, youth have shifted from rural to urban areas in search of employment, mostly as informal casual labourers. The recent reports of urban employment surveys by NSSO reveals that youth unemployment rate increased to 23.7 per cent in October-December 2018 from 22.9 per cent in April-June 2018. State policy should focus on reducing this huge unemployment among youth by focusing on skill-oriented education. Schemes like Skill-India and Make-in-India and Start-up India should focus on bridging the skill gaps of youth during this transition.
Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET)
Youth need to be in either in employment, education or training. The rate of youth Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) is a composite indicator of youth disempowerment (high NEET rate indicates more disempowerment). With increased enrolment in higher education, it reduced from 12.7 per cent to 11.8 between 2002 and 2013. SDG target 8.6 targeted to substantially reduce the proportion of youth in NEET by 2030. In India, the female NEET rate is more than six times the male rate.
Youth Guarantee programme
Globally there are some successful schemes to empower youth, of which Youth Guarantee (YG) scheme of member states of European Union is time-tested across many countries. The YG is a commitment by all Member States to ensure that all young people receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship and traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. In line with this, the government can coordinate already existing skill development and employment schemes targeted at the youth empowerment under single umbrella at district level under the chairmanship of district magistrate/collector.
This approach may be adopted by the government by opening a single window system at district level to register youth, train them and handhold them until they get gainful employment or transform themselves into entrepreneurs and fully productive citizens. All skill development centres/activities of different government departments and private sector activities under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) need to be converged under the umbrella of National Skill development Corporation (NSDC) to achieve this objective under mission mode.
(The author is with Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad. [email protected])