Sometimes we get accused of being a stuck like a broken record. But then how else does one follow an issue of utmost importance to a nation, without saying the same things over and over again.
A few days back, The Economic Times reported that the Indian Railways had received a record 1.5 crore applications for 90,000 vacancies. This is the highest number of applications that the Railways has ever received. These are vacancies in Group C and Group D categories, with salaries ranging from Rs 18,000 to Rs 60,000.
Of the 90,000 jobs, around 63,000 jobs are in the Group D category, which includes the job of a gangman. Around 26,500 jobs are in the Group C category, which includes jobs of loco pilots and assistant loco pilots.
The last day of the application is March 31, 2018. “The number could cross even two crore as there’s still a lot of time to file application,” a senior railway ministry official not willing to be identified told The Economic Times.
Around 167 individuals are competing for one job. If the number of applicants goes up to 2 crore, then 222 individuals will compete for one job in the Indian Railways.
This is India’s demographic dividend, competing for a government job, when barely any are going around. Nearly two million people cross the age of 14 every month in India. Potentially, all of them can join the labour force to look for a job. But all of them don’t. Some people continue to study. A bulk of the women do not look for a job. After adjusting for this, and folks leaving the workforce through retirement, nearly a million Indians join the workforce every month i.e. 1.2 crore a year, which is around half the population of Australia and two and a half times, the population of New Zealand.
A recent estimate made by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy suggests that in 2017, two million jobs were created for 11.5 million Indians who joined the labour force during the year.
Of course, the Indian Railways example cited earlier is just one example which shows the lack of jobs for the Indian youth entering the workforce every year. A random Google search will tell you that this is not an isolated example. A late January 2018 newsreport in The Times of India points out that, engineers, law graduates and MBAs were among the 2.81 lakh people who applied for 738 peon posts in Madhya Pradesh.
Another newsreport which appeared in The Indian Express in early January 2018 pointed out that at least “129 engineers, 23 lawyers, a chartered accountant and 393 postgraduates in arts were among 12,453 people interviewed for 18 Class IV posts — in this case, for jobs as peons — in the Rajasthan Assembly secretariat.”
Imagine, if 12,453 individuals were interviewed for 18 posts of peon, how many people would have applied in the first place?
Another newsreport in The Telegraph points out that 1,000 people turned up for three data entry posts that the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) had advertised for. As the newsreport points out: “While the required qualification for the post was graduation with mandatory knowledge of computer, candidates with BTech, MCA and law degrees turned up for the job interview.”
These are not isolated news stories. Such stories have appeared in the media regularly over the last few years. They are the best example of the fact that there aren’t enough jobs going around for India’s youth, the country’s demographic dividend.
As the Fifth Report on Employment and Unemployment points out: “The Unemployment Rate for the persons aged 18-29 years and holding a degree in graduation and above was found to be maximum with 18.4 per cent based on the Usual Principal Status Approach at the All India level.” Also, the Usual Principal Status Approach considers anyone working for a period of 183 days or more during the course of the year, as employed. Hence, a person could be unemployed for 182 days, and still considered to be employed.
In fact, in a recent answer to a question raised in the Lok Sabha, the government basically pointed out that the more educated an individual is in rural India, the more difficult it is to find a job, in India. Take a look at Table 1.
|Middle/Secondary/ Higher Secondary||3.7%|
|Graduate & above||23.8%|
As the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) document pointed out: “One hundred and eighty-three million additional income seekers are expected to join the workforce over the next 15 years.” This essentially means that a little over 12 million individuals will keep joining the workforce every year, in the years to come. This works out to around one million a month. And at this rate, the Indian workforce is expected to be larger than that of China by 2030.
And this is India’s demographic dividend. As these individuals enter the workforce, find work, earn money and spend it, the Indian economy is expected to do well. This will put India on the path to faster economic growth, which will eventually pull millions of Indians out of poverty.
The demographic dividend is a period of a few decades in the lifecycle of nation where the working population expands at a faster pace than the overall population. As the working population gets into the workforce, finds a job, starts earning and spends money, all this creates rapid economic growth, which pulls millions of people out of poverty. At least that is how it is supposed to work in theory. In India’s case it isn’t.
How have things been with other countries been in the past? Have countries which were expected to benefit from the demographic dividend benefitted from it?
As Ruchir Sharma writes in his new book The Rise and Fall of Nations—Ten Rules of Change in the Post-Crisis World: “The trick is to avoid falling for the fallacy of the “demographic dividend,” the idea that population growth pays off automatically in rapid economic growth. It pays off only if political leaders create the economic conditions necessary to attract investment and generate jobs.” This has clearly not happened in India, with the investment to GDP ratio constantly falling over the last decade.
Sharma then talks about the Arab world which despite being poised to, did not benefit from a demographic dividend. As Sharma writes: “The Arab world provides a cautionary tale. There between 1985 and 2005 the working age population grew by an average annual rate of more than 3 percent, or nearly twice as face as the rest of the world. But no economic dividend resulted. In the early 2010s many Arab countries suffered from cripplingly high youth unemployment rates; more than 40 percent in Iraq and more than 30 percent in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Tunisia, where the violence and chaos of the Arab Spring began.”
So, what is the way out for India? The answer as we have said over and over again in our previous columns, is the export of low-end manufacturing goods. This is something that India has missed out on. As Sharma said in a recent conference: “If you look at the success stories across the world, their key to success was all the same thing which is they all exported their way to prosperity. They exported their way to prosperity by producing low end manufacturing goods. It is low end manufacturing goods where you end up getting a huge amount of employment growth as well.”
Given that India has missed the manufacturing bus, jobs are hard to come by. As Nobel Prize winning economist said in a recent conference: “India’s lack in the manufacturing sector could work against it, as it doesn’t have the jobs essential to sustain the projected growth in demography. You have to find jobs for people.”
All this leaves us with the question, what does the future have for India? Pakodas we guess.
This column originally appeared in Equitymaster on March 19, 2018.