December 25, 2022

Jobless Numbers are Touching Five Crore

Subodh Varma

Labour force has still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, according to CMIE.

LATEST estimates put the number of unemployed in India at over five crore. This is just short of the heights reached during 2020, the first year of the pandemic, which saw recurring lockdowns and a shutdown of the economy. These estimates, made by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), are drawn from periodic sample surveys carried out by the consultancy. The jobless numbers include both, those who are actively looking for jobs and those who want to work but are not seeking it immediately due to lack of availability or just discouragement.

As shown in the chart below, drawn from CMIE data, India’s labour force in 2022 is still short of the pre-pandemic level. In 2019, the labour force was estimated at 44.2 crore. It reduced dramatically in the first year of the pandemic and has been recovering since. It was estimated at 43.7 crore in November 2022.


The labour force is defined as those working as well as those without a job but willing to work. The latter category includes those actively seeking work as also those who may not be looking for jobs at the time of the survey but are willing to work, if available. So, the rise in India’s labour force is actually being driven by the unemployed as much as by those getting jobs.


The past several years have seen a consistently high unemployment rate in India. It averaged 7.4 per cent in 2019, shot up to over 10 per cent average over 2020 (including over 25 per cent in the first lockdown), then dipped to about 7.8 per cent in 2021 and was currently estimated at about 7.5 per cent in November. These are monthly rates averaged out over the whole year.

However, the situation is dire and fraught with anxiety for job seekers because in December, the 30-day moving average data from CMIE shows a steep rise from about 8.2 per cent on December 1, to 9.3 per cent by December 16. Urban unemployment is particularly worrisome as the 30-day moving average on December 16 for urban areas stood at 9.7 per cent while the same for rural areas was about 9 per cent. One year ago, in December 2021, the country’s unemployment rate was 7.9 per cent.


The total number of employed persons in the country was estimated at about 40.18 crore at the end of November 2022. Three years ago, at the end of November 2019, the number was 40.3 crore. In the pandemic year 2020, it was 39.4 crore, which rose slightly to 40.27 crore in 2021. This means that the number of employed has been stagnating at around the 40-crore mark for the past three years.

These numbers are a severe indictment of the Narendra Modi government – despite growing population and the backlog of jobless persons adding every year, if no new jobs are available then it shows a complete failure of the government’s repeated assertions of working to create jobs. The promise of two crore jobs every year – given by Prime Minister Modi in the run-up to the 2014 general elections – has been thrown into the dustbin of history where it rests with the promise of ‘Achhe Din’ (good times).


In fact, there is a deafening silence on the jobs front in the recent past. The last big promise was when PM Modi announced in June 2022 that 10 lakh vacancies in government posts would be filled up in 18 months. After that, in October, the PM announced that this process had started as he gave away appointment letters to 75,000 people at a Rozgar Mela. In his address, Modi said that infrastructure projects were bound to create jobs and loans for MSME (medium, small and micro enterprises) sector also have created self-employment. Unsurprisingly, the fact that the so-called infrastructure boost and credit to MSME doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the grim unemployment rates was completely glossed over.

Apart from this, there is not much talk about creating jobs, apart from some ritualistic statements while laying foundation stones or inaugurating projects. The earlier energy and attention – even if on paper – has vanished.

Ironically, surveys carried out during recent elections for state assemblies showed that unemployment remains one of the biggest concerns of voters, along with price rise. This is understandable, as these two economic crises have been haunting the people constantly, through the pandemic and later in the so called ‘recovery’ period. However, despite these worries, the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by PM Modi blithely continues to pay attention to everything under the sun – from inaugurating temple renovation projects to highways to airports down to the rotational G-20 presidentship.