Figuratively speaking

The creation of new jobs is essential for a healthy economy. However, the lack of reliable data on jobs is currently a much debated issue and key concern in the country today.

This is also a major handicap for policymakers and private sector analysts alike, who find it difficult to assess the impact of government's various schemes toward creation of jobs in the country. Similar argument was also made by prime minister Narendra Modi in an interview few days back to a magazine. He said “Today the problem is not about the lack of jobs but rather about the lack of available data on jobs. I don’t blame our opponents for blaming us on the issue of jobs, after all, no one has an accurate data on jobs. Our traditional matrix of measuring  jobs is simply not good enough to measure new jobs created in a year in the new economy of new India”.

In spite of this, just after two weeks of his interview, he could not resist himself of criticism made by Congress president Rahul Gandhi that government failed to create enough jobs in the recent parliament speech in response to the No-confidence Motion in Lok Sabha. In his reply, he also provided some interesting job statistics and said that over one crore jobs were created in the country during the past one year citing a survey figure of some independent agency. Interestingly, the name was not revealed.

Asserting on his points, the prime minister referred to employment figures available in the system including EPF, NPS, formal and informal sector. He said the government has met its promise of creating one crore jobs in a year: 45 lakh jobs based on Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) data; 5.7 lakh jobs based on National Pension Scheme; more than 6 lakh jobs based on doctors, chartered accountants and lawyers, who started working; and 20 lakh jobs from transport sector based on sales of auto rickshaws, commercial vehicles and passenger vehicles. Grippingly, these figures not add upto 1 crore. Surjit Bhalla, a member of the Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister (EAC-PM) has also claimed that 1.3 crore new jobs created in 2017 alone.

On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi in the past also provided several job data without providing their sources. During the last state election held in Karnataka, he suggested that India under the Modi government generated only 6.5 lakh jobs in four years, while the Congress government in Karnataka had claimed that the state generated 13.9 lakh jobs in the last four years and is inching closer towards meeting the state government’s target of creating 15 lakh jobs by 2019. If only one state has managed to create nearly 14 lakh jobs then how the Modi government created only 6.5 lakh jobs during the same period. The source of data is not clear but job figure is now a common refrain in the political discourse.

At present only two independent but piecemeal sources of data on employment — one, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) who collects data from a panel of households of over 5 lakh adults from 1.58 lakh households, spread around 325 cities and 2,900 villages, another, EPFO, which provides payroll based data of formal sector employment in the country. The EPFO data suggests a likely of 7 million formal jobs created in 2017-18. However, contrary to EPFO and the PM’s claim, CMIE survey suggests that only 1.7 million (formal + informal) jobs have been created in 2017-18. The survey suggests a declining trend in the labour participation rate from 46.1 per cent to 43.5 per cent, while unemployment rate rose from 3.8 per cent to 6.3 per cent during the same period paints a worrisome picture.  

On whole, the government itself is primarily responsible for the present confusion of job data in the country. Since 1972-73, the five-yearly Employment-Unemployment Surveys (EUS) was conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), which have been the mainstay for analysing labour market trends. However, a taskforce appointed by the prime minister recommended that NSSO, EUS surveys be scrapped in favour of a more periodic survey that will collects data for more precise results on jobs being created or lost. As the last round of the EUS was held in 2011-12, there is no reliable way of updating employment trends. The EUS has been replaced with an annual Period Labour Force Survey (PLFS), which was launched in April last year to obtain employment data at shorter intervals by measuring quarterly changes in statistical indicators of labour market in urban areas and to generate annual estimates of labour force for the economy as a whole. As we enter the election year (the general elections set to be held by mid 2019) and the employment survey results still not out. In the lack of periodic and credible data on jobs makes it is difficult to assess the impact of policy actions and measure accurate job growth in the economy. Thus, for the government, the need of the hour is to release the annual employment survey results as early as possible to remove the muddle of job dataand to comeout clear on the facts.

(With Balwant S Mehta, a fellow of Institute for Human Development)

(The writer is founding editor of Rural Connect)