Female labor force participation rate in India has recently fallen to just 19%, the second lowest after Afghanistan's 15% in the South Asia region. By contrast, Pakistan's women's labor force participation rate is 21%, Sri Lanka's 31% and Bangladesh's 35%. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mishandling of the COVID19 pandemic has hit Indian women particularly hard, with 90% of those who lost their jobs now shut out of the workforce.
|Female Labor Force Participation Rate in South Asia. Source: World Bank|
The precipitous loss of women workers is disastrous news for India's economy, which had started slowing before the COVID19 pandemic, according to a Bloomberg report. Rosa Abraham, an economics professor at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, tracked more than 20,000 people as they navigated the labor market during the pandemic.. She found that after the first lockdown, women were several times more likely to lose their jobs than men and far less likely to recover work after restrictions were lifted. "When men are faced with this kind of a huge economic shock, then they have a fallback option," Abraham told Bloomberg. "They can navigate to different kinds of work. But for women, there is no such fallback option. They can't negotiate the labor market as effectively as men do."
Women accounted for less than 11% of all jobs in 2019-20. But, they accounted for nearly 52% of the 7 million job losses since then, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). It gets worse in urban India. Women accounted for only 9% of total employment in urban India but they accounted for a massive 76% of the job losses here. The impact of this is a sharp fall in the labor participation of women. The female labor force participation rate among urban women was abysmally low at 9.4% in 2019-20 and it has since fallen to 7% in 2021-22.
|COVID19 Pandemic Impact on Employment in India. Source: Bloomberg|
Modi government has underplayed the death toll and the negative impact of the COVID19 pandemic in India. But the World Health Organization estimates that India had 4.730 million COVID19-related deaths in 2020-21, nearly a third of 15 million global excess deaths attributed to the pandemic. India is followed by Russia with 1.073 million deaths and Indonesia with 1.03 million deaths. The United States with 933,795 deaths and Brazil with 681,219 deaths round out the top 5 countries that suffered the heaviest losses of life believed to be related to the pandemic. Mexico (625,923 deaths), Peru (289,654 deaths), Turkey (264,279 deaths) Egypt (251,635 deaths) and South Africa (238,893 deaths) are ranked number 6 through 10 in the world for excess deaths in 2020-21 period. Although Pakistan too had 8 times the official figure, it still does not figure in WHO's top 10 list for total number of COVID deaths.
It's not just Indian women who have suffered job losses. India's overall labor participation rate (LPR) fell to 39.5% in March 2022, as reported by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). It dropped below the 39.9% participation rate recorded in February. It is also lower than during the second wave of Covid-19 in April-June 2021. The lowest the labor participation rate had fallen to in the second wave was in June 2021 when it fell to 39.6%. The average LPR during April-June 2021 was 40%. March 2022, with no Covid-19 wave and with much lesser restrictions on mobility, has reported a worse LPR of 39.5%.
|Labor Participation Rates in India and Pakistan. Source: ILO/World Bank|
Youth unemployment for ages 15-24 in India is 24.9%, the highest in the South Asia region. It is 14.8% in Bangladesh 14.8% and 9.2% in Pakistan, according to the International Labor Organization and the World Bank.
|Youth Unemployment in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Source: ILO, WB|
In spite of the headline GDP growth figures highlighted by the Indian and world media, the fact is that it has been jobless growth. The labor participation rate (LPR) in India has been falling for more than a decade. The LPR in India has been below Pakistan's for several years, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
|Indian Employment Trends By Sector. Source: CMIE Via Business Standard|
Construction and manufacturing sectors in India have been shedding jobs while the number of people working in agriculture has been rising, according to CMIE.
|Pakistan Employment By Sectors. Source: PBS via Bilal Gilani|
It is important to note that Pakistan’s economy has created 5.5 million jobs during the past three years – 1.84 million jobs a year, significantly higher than yearly average of new jobs created during the 2008-18 decade, according to the findings of Labor Force Survey (LFS) as reported by the Express Tribune paper. The biggest jump in share of employment (1.5%) was in the construction sector, spurred by Naya Pakistan construction incentives offered by the PTI government.
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