Declining quantity and quality of employment:
Wastage of country’s youthful workforce

Government spokesmen claim that India is the fastest growing major economy of the world. However, the number of jobs is not growing and the quality of available jobs is deteriorating. The youthful population, which is India’s most precious productive force, is getting wasted because the economic system is oriented to fulfil capitalist greed and not to fulfil people’s need.

About 90 crore people fall in the working age of 15-59 years out of the total population of about 140 crore Indians. However, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), only a little over 40 crore people in this working age population were gainfully employed in May 2023, consisting of about 36 crore men and 4 crore women. The CMIE considers a person as employed if he or she was engaged in at least 4 hours of income earning work on the day of the interview. The roughly 40 crore employed persons is made up of about 22 crore who are earning a monthly salary or daily wage and about 18 crore who are self-employed, including about 10 crore peasants.

About 3.2 crore persons were unemployed in April 2023; that is, they were actively looking for employment but had not found any. Thus, only about half of the working-age population are in the labour force, which consists of those who are employed and those who are seeking work but unemployed. The other half who are not in the labour force includes those who are engaged in unpaid household work, those who are students, as well as those who have given up trying to find gainful employment.

Table 1 shows the distribution of the working age population in the year 2017-18. It can be seen that crores of people who are capable and willing to work were not engaged in any income earning activity. Crores of women who are capable of productive work were staying at home, due to social constraints or because it is unsafe to venture outside. Crores of young women and men were not even looking for employment because they have no hope of finding any. These are all forms of colossal wastage of productive forces.

Table 1: Status of Persons of Working-Age in 2017-18 (in Crores)

Status 15-24 yrs of age 25-59 yrs of age
Students 12.9 0.4
Self-Employed 2.1 17.5
Regular Salaried 1.6 9.3
Casual Labour 1.5 8.9
Unemployed * 1.9 1.3
Domestic/Household Work 5.7 21.7

Others 0.4 1.6
Total 26.1 61.4

* Unemployed are those were actively seeking but did not find any work

Source: Indicus Foundation White Paper; Emerging Employment Patterns of 21st Century India – by Laveesh Bhandari & Amaresh Dubey, 2019.

Table 2 shows that the total number of employed people has fallen from 41.27 crore in 2016-17 to 40.58 crore in 2022-23; and the biggest decline has happened in the employment of India’s youth. In 2016-17, there were 10.34 crore people under the age of 30 years in the workforce. By the end of 2022-23, this number had fallen by over 3 crores to just 7.1 crore.

The working age population is expected to expand from about 90 crore to 100 crore in the decade 2020-2030. This is potentially a great national asset, referred to as the “demographic dividend”.  However, this potential asset is getting wasted in the existing system.

Not only has the quantity of jobs available stagnated, there has been a shift from regular and permanent employment to contractual employment.

Increasing use of temporary contracts is the dominant trend in the private sector, including both Indian and foreign capitalist companies. Temporary contracts offer a great opportunity for companies to reduce employee-related expenditure, as they are not required to comply with the rights and benefits that legally accrue to regular workers.

The trend of increasing resort to contract labour is happening in the public sector as well. Government departments and public enterprises have not been filling vacancies for regular employees for the past several years.

In 2019, 1.25 crore people applied for 35,000 job openings in the Indian Railways – 357 applicants for every job. In January 2022, railway authorities announced they were not going to make any job offers against these applications!

In recent years, the gig economy (in which companies and workers enter into an arrangement outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship) is steadily expanding into more and more sectors of the economy. India is currently estimated to have more than 1.5 crore gig workers. Of these, an estimated 99 lakhs are in delivery services. According to a NITI Aayog report in 2022, nearly 2.35 crore workers will be working in the gig economy by 2029. The workers who are part of the gig economy are not considered as workers by the labour laws of India. There is no legal recognition of their rights as workers.

Another aspect of the increasing insecurity of livelihood and low quality of jobs is that more and more of the work force is being driven to self-employment.

The Periodic Labour Force Survey 2020-21 (this annual survey is carried out by the NSSO to estimate the key employment and unemployment indicators for the economy) report brought out the struggle for survival that self-employed workers are facing in the country. The average monthly earnings of a salaried/wage earning worker was Rs.17,600 per month in April-June 2020. Average monthly earnings for a self-employed person in the same period was only Rs. 9,541, little more than half that of a salaried worker.

Government spokesmen claim that self-employment is a way for youth to become ‘job givers’ instead of being ‘job seekers’. However, the reality is that less than 5 percent of the self-employed are job-creators. The rest run small enterprises either on their own or with the help of unpaid family members. Self-employment in most cases reflects the absence of paid employment.

The harsh reality is that the capitalist system is unable to provide secure livelihood to those who are willing to work.  It is unable to productively use the available labour force. It is unable to take advantage of the ‘demographic dividend’.

The livelihood situation in the country can be summed up as:

  • India’s workforce is not rising in relation to its increasing working age population;
  • The number of employed persons has largely remained stagnant at a little over 40 crore in the past five years, less than half the number of working-age people;
  • The quality of jobs is declining, as most new hiring is on temporary contracts, both in the private and public sectors;
  • A large proportion of new jobs is in the so-called gig economy, in which workers’ rights are not recognised; and
  • Many people who cannot find a job are becoming self-employed, eking out a living earning less than the minimum wage.

The decline in employment and in the quality of jobs is an inevitable feature of the capitalist orientation of the economy. When the maximisation of private profit is the motive, then the remuneration of workers is treated as a cost to be minimised.

Capitalist employers try to extract maximum work from minimum number of workers. One section of workers is super exploited while another section is kept forcibly idle, without jobs. The existence of the reserve army of the unemployed enables the capitalists to drive down wages, and intensify the exploitation of workers. Security of livelihood, fixed hours of work, safe and comfortable working conditions are not ensured as these are contrary to the interest of capitalists to maximise their profits.

The system of social production is not aimed at fulfilling the needs of workers, peasants, and other working people. What is produced and how much is not determined by what Indian society needs. It is determined by the greed of capitalists for maximum profits. This leads to lopsided developments, such as a boom in one sector leading to an increase in jobs while pushing other sectors into crisis, resulting in large-scale retrenchment. Major sectors of the economy have grown very little or remained stagnant because capitalists do not find it profitable enough to invest in them.  Lakhs of small and medium companies have closed down since the 2016 demonetisation, the introduction of GST in 2017 and lockdowns in 2020.

The “growth” that has been taking place over the past few decades has resulted in the biggest Indian capitalist monopolies joining the ranks of the world’s richest. It has been achieved by intensifying the exploitation of workers, the robbery of peasants, and the plunder of the natural resources of our country. The extremely parasitic nature of capitalism at its present stage is revealed by the fact that government spokesmen boast of “growth” even as unemployment and underemployment are rampant. More jobs are being destroyed than the number of new jobs being created.

The alternative for which the working class and all labouring people must fight is the socialist economic system, which is driven by the motive of fulfilling people’s needs. Fulfilment of the needs of all members of society will require a huge increase in producing food, clothing and all other essential goods and services. It will require many more teachers, health workers and other public service workers to be hired.

Socialism is a system in which the means of large-scale production are no longer the private property of capitalists but the social property of the entire people. With production being organised according to one overall plan, there will be balanced growth of all sectors of the economy, without recurring crises and destruction of jobs. Advancements in technology will be utilised to increase production of goods and services greatly so as to fulfil the ever growing needs of the whole of society. They will be used to improve the conditions of the working people and reduce their workload, rather than to super-exploit them or to render them jobless. All available hands will be employed, and working hours will be reduced over time, as the productivity of labour rises. Such a system will ensure security of livelihood and prosperity for all.

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