The economy's humming, so where are the jobs?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 September, 2011, 12:00am

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Millions yearn for jobs in India. Any advertisement for a government job (prized among the poor for its security) invariably draws a deluge of applications. Earlier this month, a 23-year-old man was so desperate to get a job as a forest guard with the Maharashtra government that he agreed to run 25 kilometres in the blazing sun as a test of his physical fitness, along with 9,500 other aspirants. He collapsed during the run and died later.

Last year, when the Mumbai police announced they were recruiting around 3,000 people, over 30,000 turned up at the recruitment centre. As they jostled and pushed, a stampede broke out and one man died.

The desperation may seem excessive but it is justified. India's scorching economic growth has been unaccompanied by job generation. Data released by the government in June showed that, between 2004 and 2009, the country generated two million jobs, just 400,000 a year on average. In the same period, 55 million people aged between 15 and 59 joined the workforce - an alarming disparity.

If India fails to generate more jobs, the aspirations of an entire generation will be thwarted. Then there are the possible social repercussions. India's middle and lower-middle class have great expectations of self-improvement and prosperity. If those hopes are frustrated, it is possible that what has been touted as India's biggest advantage over China - its demographic dividend, namely a large, young, working population - could end up as a liability.

The Labour Ministry has estimated that the labour force will rise from 520 million last year to 574 million by 2014-2015. That calls for an additional 11 million jobs each year to maintain the current ratio of employed people to the total population, that is, 39 per cent of the 1.2 billion.

If that is scary, consider this: the number of Indians aged between 15 and 64 is projected to increase from the 781 million last year to 1.02 billion by 2030.

This sort of phenomenon - an ample supply of labour that is available to meet a country's economic needs - was used by China to power its rise. If India wants to see similar benefits, the government will have to devise policies to create millions of jobs in manufacturing and the service sector so young Indians can be both productive and earn enough to be future consumers.

For the average young Indian male, the future looks pretty bleak. Not only are millions of men of marriageable age currently unable to find a bride (thanks to the practice of female feticide) but they can expect to be jobless as well. Leaving aside the implications for the economy, this is not exactly a recipe for social stability.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India