UP elections: Double Engine left urban youth stranded

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The final bugle of the Assembly elections has sounded. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath and the entire propaganda apparatus of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – led by the government or the party – insist on the advantage of ” double engine ”to have the same party in power in the Center and the state. Does it really give people an advantage? On the key issue of employment, this surely does not seem to have worked.

This failure is spectacularly visible among urban youth. According to most recent quarterly report according to the periodic labor force survey (PLFS) which covers only urban employment, unemployment among urban youth in the UP was just above 23%. This means that almost a quarter of young people aged 15 to 29 are recognized as unemployed.

Like the graphic below (taken from previous quarterly reports) shows, this situation has prevailed for almost three years. It predates the pandemic. In the third quarter (October to December) of 2018-2019, urban youth unemployment was at an all-time high of 29% in PU, significantly higher than the Indian average which stood at an alarming level of almost 24% . UP’s youth unemployment rate has remained above the Indian average for most of this period, except during the first lockdown in April-May-June 2020.

The annual PLFS involves a sample survey of more than one lakh of households covering nearly 4.2 lakh of individuals spread across rural and urban areas. It is published by the National Statistics Office (under the Ministry of Statistics) which also publishes quarterly reports covering a sample of 1.7 lakh of individuals.

These shocking levels of unemployment become all the more worrying if we see that they are derived from what is called “Current Weekly Status” or CWS. Under this measure, a person is defined as an employee if he or she has worked for a hour in the whole of the week preceding the day of the survey.

With this definition, one can imagine the extent of unemployment – more than 20% of young people do not even find an hour of work in a week! Others qualified as “employees” may have worked between two hours per week and the whole week.

Global unemployment is also high

High rates of urban youth unemployment exist under conditions where overall unemployment rates are also worrying, as shown in the graph below (taken from PLFS annual reports).

This is for the whole population, that is, all people over 15, and again, it is for the CFS – one hour of work per week. With 8-9% of the working-age population consistently unemployed over the past three years, families face an unprecedented economic crisis. Remember that this includes farming, which has been a saving grace. It absorbed a large number of the unemployed – including returning migrants during the closures. Despite this sort of cushion that prevents mass starvation, 8-10% unemployment in a large state like the UP is a blatant failure of the twin engine.

The double engine fails

As the graph shows, whether Modi or Yogi, the unemployment situation is the same. Both engines drive urban youth into a purgatory of poverty and humiliation, as they must either depend on their aging parents for survival or on borrowing from friends and relatives. This is the fate of the great “demographic dividend” that many brag about, the young working-age population in their prime.

It is hardly surprising that Yogi and Modi led their respective governments down the same path. After all, they adopted the same economic policies. Learning from his mentor in New Delhi, Yogi Adityanath organized large investor summits in Lucknow to attract private investment to the state, he cut public spending on social assistance schemes allegedly to provide space to the private sector, it outsourced and subcontracted labor to save money, it diluted labor laws (in fact, the UP government suspended all industrial laws after pandemic), it has been reluctant to increase support prices for agricultural products like sugar cane, and it has left thousands of government posts vacant. These are very similar to PM Modi’s own economic policies.

These economic policies have not only led to mass unemployment, but have also caused unspeakable distress in the devastation caused by the pandemic. With deficient health infrastructures, inadequate nutrition programs, and almost non-existent social security, the populations have for the most part been left to fend for themselves.

The UP had an urbanization rate of around 22% at the time of the last census (2011). With a projected population of around 23 crore in 2021, this means that around 5.1 crore of people were staying in urban areas which can range from big cities (like Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur, Meerut, Gorakhpur, etc.) to small towns and cities. “Nagar panchayats”. It is the largest urban population of any state in absolute terms, but not in percentage. High unemployment in this vocal and ambitious section will signify growing disillusionment with the “dual engine” whose two components had promised a large number of jobs while seeking voices. The BJP may well face tough times in urban areas in the next assembly polls.


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