Empire Diaries Desk
May 7, 2020, New Delhi: A total of 12.2 crore (122 million) Indians lost their jobs in the month of April as a result of the nationwide #lockdown enforced due to the #coronavirus #pandemic. The unprecedented crisis has seen India’s unemployment rate shoot through the roof, reaching 27.1% in the month ending May 3, 2020. Right before the Indian government announced a nationwide lockdown in March-end, the country’s unemployment rate was hovering at around 7%.
The shocking data has been published on the website of an India-based private watchdog, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). The data agency’s exposition is a grave indicator of how #Covid19 has had a monumental, destructive, collateral impact on the Indian job market.
The #CMIE figures are staggering, yet at the same time inevitable, considering that thousands of small and medium-sized businesses (who were employers) have gone bust or shrunk ever since the ongoing lockdown came into force on March 25. Every day, companies big and small, cutting across industries, have been resorting to laying people off – some instances simply being opportunistic overreaction, while many others resulting from genuine distress.
The international media has been extensively reporting in recent weeks about 3 crore (30 million) Americans losing their jobs across the US. In comparison, four times more people in India have lost their jobs. India’s misery is four times deeper. There can be no comparison.
The direct impact of the coronavirus in India has been relatively muted, considering that wealthier countries such as the US, France, UK, China, to name a few, are struggling to tackle body bags piling up. So far, about 52,000 Indians have tested positive for Covid-19 and less than 2,000 coronavirus deaths have been reported across the country.
These numbers do not, however, justify arguments that say the government shouldn’t have gone for a lockdown in the first place. It was still largely unavoidable, at least in the initial stages of the outbreak – when the world didn’t really know whether it will spread and kill people at an exponential rate. Pandemics happen once in a century, and no government can claim to be prepared, skilled and equipped to handle them judiciously.
But a vital argument that makes sense here is to ponder if the state machinery should be urgently stepping up in the wake of this shocking report on job losses in April, and seek to protect as many jobs as it can to avoid further damage. That’s the least the Indian government can do and should do.
In India, it is the collateral damage of the virus that is actually tormenting the man on the street. No section of the society has been left unscathed. Traders, salaried workers, unorganised-sector wage earners, casual labourers, self-employed people – the 12.2 crore job losses include all these categories.
“It is not surprising that small traders and wage labourers account for most of these losses. They have been the most severely hit during the lockdown,” said the CMIE report, titled ‘The jobs bloodbath of April 2020’.
The report also notes, “Larger entrepreneurs, those with fixed assets, have also reported large employment losses. 23% of them reported a loss of jobs. This is interesting because a business person usually does not declare the status of being unemployed unless the loss has a degree of irreversibility.”