Rising unemployment brings election promises under increased scrutiny

unemployment, elections, jobs, workers
Unemployment woes dominate election campaigns as voters question job creation promises with official data painting a dismal picture.

In the election season, employment and jobs continue to be major talking points, with quality jobs remaining scarce despite assurances from politicians. Unemployment is a significant concern among voters, and the latest data from the labour bureau’s quarterly employment survey confirms why; job levels are still below those seen during the pandemic years. While fresh job creation in the nine major non-farm sectors recovered sequentially in the September quarter of FY23, it remained below the new job additions during the Omicron-hit March quarter of FY22.

Those affected by unemployment are already aware of the situation, leading to unease despite political promises. Before the elections, the ruling NDA and the opposition INDIA alliance released their election manifestos with fresh promises. How these promises will be implemented remains to be seen.

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In terms of employment, income, and job creation, the BJP’s Sankalp Patra 2024 focuses on entrepreneurship to generate jobs and income. The ruling party’s existing flagship schemes, including the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme and the Make in India programme, are at the centre of its job creation agenda. The party has promised to double the Mudra loan limit for those who previously availed of and repaid loans under the TARUN category. While the manifesto remains silent on expanding the manufacturing sector, it is optimistic that tourism and infrastructure will bolster employment and income opportunities.

Discussing the election promises, Congress leaders decry the lack of employment opportunities for the country’s population. They say the Congress will seek full employment and intends to fill vacancies in government jobs through an urban unemployment programme. The Congress manifesto said the party will improve working conditions for gig workers and promised to address their issues. The Congress manifesto resolves to enhance the manufacturing sector by increasing its share from 14% to 20% of GDP in the next five years. It has also promised a Right to Apprenticeship Act, which will provide one lakh paid apprenticeships to diploma holders and graduates under 25 years of age to develop skills and enhance employability.

Other political parties have also put forth their election manifestos with promises related to employment and job creation. The Aam Aadmi Party has pledged to prioritise education and healthcare as means to boost employment. Their manifesto emphasises vocational training and skill development programmes to equip the youth with employable skills. Additionally, AAP has proposed incentives for startups and small businesses, aiming to create a conducive environment for entrepreneurship and job creation.

Beyond election promises

The ground reality and the actual work done in the last five years are better indicators of the success of election promises. While the government highlights the job generation in the last 10 years, independent economists say that not all employment, whether in agriculture or the non-farm sector, can be considered jobs.

The problem with the employment scenario in India is that an increase in employment in agriculture is considered jobs, but it is actually jobless growth. In any successful economy, more people shift to non-agricultural jobs, which is not the case in India, labour economist Prof Santosh Mehrotra said in an interview with Policy Circle.

Government data on unemployment

The latest labour bureau report reveals a significant decline in new job creation in India during the first half of the current fiscal year (April-September 2023). While the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) by the ministry of statistics provides employment scenarios for the supply side of the labour market through household surveys, the QES provides the demand-side picture of the labourmarket through establishment surveys.

Compared with the previous six months, the number of new hires dropped by more than half, falling to 331,221. This follows a trend of declining job growth since the Omicron wave hit in Q4 of FY22. The report, based on a survey of nine key non-farm sectors, presents a mixed picture. While manufacturing added the most new jobs (1.7 million), sectors like education, transportation, construction, and IT/BPO saw a workforce decline. 

The latest CSDS survey of 2024 highlights that 62% of voters believe it is now harder to find a job than it was five years ago. The same sentiment is reflected in urban areas, where 65% of respondents agreed that it is harder to find jobs. Those affected by the current job market must question where the two crore new jobs per year promised in the previous elections are.

Technology and digitalisation are seen as key drivers of future job creation. Various parties have acknowledged this by proposing initiatives to harness the potential of technology. The BJP has suggested expanding digital infrastructure and promoting IT education to prepare the workforce for the digital economy. Meanwhile, the Congress party aims to bridge the digital divide by ensuring access to technology in rural areas, thereby opening new avenues for employment.