For the first time since 1993-94, the actual size of India's male workforce, or men who are working, has shrunk. Data from the NSSO's Periodic Labour Force Survey 2017-18, reviewed by The Indian Express, account for 28.6 crore employed male in the country. This is the first instance of a drop in the male workforce that steadily swelled from 21.9 crore in 1993-94 to 30.4 crore in 2011-12 when the last NSSO survey was conducted. This suggests fewer men were employed in 2017-18 compared with five years ago.
The decline in actual numbers occurred, again for the first time since 1993-94, in both rural and urban male workforce (see chart). The slide is steeper - 6.4% - in the rural areas compared to a 4.7% setback observed in the urban sector. The yet -to-be-released PLFS report put the unemployment rate for male in urban and rural segments at 7.1 per cent and 5.8 per cent, respectively. Economists call for raising voice against suppression of data
Experts, who did not wish to be named, said the data requires deeper study, but clearly points to job losses, and fewer fresh employment opportunities.
The NSSO report, based on the PLFS conducted between July 2017 and June 2018, is yet to be released by the government. The Acting Chairperson of the National Statistical Commission P C Mohanan and another member, J V Meenakshi, quit January-end this year after the government withheld the release of the report that was approved by the commission in December 2018.
The NSSO data shows an employment loss of 4.3 crore (from 30.9 crore in 2011-12 to 26.6 crore in 2017-18) in the rural and 0.4 crore (from 11.1 crore in 2011-12 to 10.7 crore in 2017-18) in the urban segment. While the employment loss in the rural segment hurt the women most (68 per cent), men suffered more (96 per cent) job losses in the urban areas. In all, since 2011-12, India's national workforce shrunk by 4.7 crore - more than the population of Saudi Arabia.
While the NSSO publishes employment rates in percentage - and not actual workforce figures - its data sets include details of populations, sex ratio, labour force participation rates, employment-to-population ratio etc. Overall, the PLFS 2017-18 reported a 6.1 per cent unemployment rate, a sharp jump from 2.2 per cent reported in 2011-12.
Why this should be a worry
A shrinking workforce suggests an increase in the number of unemployed, and also points to fewer new job opportunities. Given India's demography and labour force growth over the decades, this should be a cause for concern.
Like the 2017-18 NSSO survey, the 2011-12 survey also recorded a major loss of employment in rural women which was largely offset by a reasonable jump in employment in rural male. Between 2004-05 and 2011-12, women in rural employment shrunk by 22 million. In the same period, male in rural employment increased by 13 million. This resulted in a net rural employment loss of 90 lakh in that period (see Table 2). But the growth reversal in male employment since 2011-12 resulted in over four and half times that loss in national employment.
According to PLFS 2017-18, the percentage of working age (15-59 years) population that received any formal vocational/technical training actually came down from 2.2 per cent in 2011-12 to 2 per cent in 2017-18. Among the youth (15-29 years), however, a jump of 0.1 per cent is recorded in the same time period.