Empire Diaries Desk
August 20, 2020: Seven months into the coronavirus pandemic, and four months since India first went into a hard lockdown; the damage done to the country’s fragile job market chillingly stands out like a set of numbers that will haunt us for years to come.
Shockingly, a total of 26.27 crore Indians have gone jobless during the four-month period from April to July this year.
The revelation came in the form of a data analysis carried out by the independent economic watchdog, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). The report, which looks at job data between April and July this year, says the figure of 26.27 crore job losses includes 1.89 crore salaried employees who have been laid off in these four months.
Particularly worrisome is the fact that at least 50 lakh salaried Indians lost their jobs only in the month of July. It shows that despite unlockdowns coming into force since early June, the salaried class is continuing to lose its livelihood.
The CMIE analysis says, “On a net basis, the plight of salaried employees has worsened since the lockdown began. In April, they lost 1.77 crore jobs. But by July, their losses had swelled to 1.89 crore.”
India brought about the strict nationwide lockdown in March-end to stem the spread of Covid-19, and then started to unlock essential sections of the economy from early June. As a result, the economy plunged phenomenally during the curfew-like days in April-May, before marginally recovering in June-July.
The report gives a detailed lowdown of the numbers over the four-month period. It says while April saw 12.15 crore overall job losses across the country, jobs lost in May stood at 10 crore. Then in the month of June, 2.99 crore people went jobless, while July saw 1.1 crore people experiencing job losses.
The report indicates that informal sector jobs have shown a sign of recovery towards the second half of the four-month period, while the formal sector job market still paints a grim picture. “Small traders, hawkers and daily wage labourers were the worst hit by the lockdown in April. Of the 12.15 crore jobs lost in that month, 9.12 crore were among these. This category of employment accounted for about 32% of the total employment, but it suffered 75% of the hit in April,” the report says.
The four tumultuous months have seen another unusual cycle. When the hard lockdown first set in at the end of March, India experienced a large-scale exodus of working-class, wage-earning migrants from the cities. It was dubbed ‘reverse migration’ and it was caused by businesses shuttering overnight to the prolonged hard lockdown.
It led to a severe humanitarian crisis that made headlines around the world, with visuals of hapless migrant families trudging down harsh highways towards their native villages hundreds of miles away from the cities they were forced to flee.
But as the country started the process of unlocking step by step, starting in early June, these same migrants – many of them finding it difficult to earn livelihoods back home in their villages – are expectantly trickling back into the same cities that they were forced to leave behind.
In this generally hopeless situation, farming is the only sector where Indians have seen a ray of light. A sizeable section of urban migrants who returned to their native places in rural India have taken up farming to survive.
The report points out that according to data that it has accessed, the number of people in India who are into farming have shown signs of going up during the course of the lockdown, even as the country is seeing a bloodbath in the urban job market.
In March, says the report, 11.7 crore people had declared farming as their occupation and the number remained the same in April. In May, employment in farming inched up to 11.85 crore, before shooting up to 13 crore in June. It slipped marginally to 12.6 crore in July, but that was partly because some of the migrants have begun to return to the cities as coronavirus curbs are steadily getting lifted in urban India.