Report highlights troubling truths about job scarcity and income inequality in India

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National Students Union of India members during a protest march against unemployment on September 17, 2020.

A recent report released by Karnataka-based Bahutva Karnataka, a non-profit coalition of progressive groups, has brought to light concerning trends in the employment landscape and income inequality in India, particularly focusing on the situation in Karnataka. The report, titled “Guarantee Checks: Employment, Wages, and Inequality”, meticulously analyses government data and juxtaposes official claims with ground realities, painting a stark picture of the challenges faced by millions in the workforce. Finding gaping holes in the claims made by the Centre’s “guarantee” claims, the report highlights the need for urgent policy reforms to address issues such as a unemployment and inequality.

One of the salient features of the report is the alarming rise in self-employment, driven by a scarcity of formal job opportunities. More than half of men and over two-thirds of women are categorised as self-employed, indicating a lack of viable employment options. Stagnant household earnings have pushed many, especially women, into unpaid work, further exacerbating the income disparity.

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Frontline spoke to Vinay Sreenivasa, a member of Bahutva Karnataka about the report’s findings. “It [the report] is based on the Periodic Labour Force Survey released by the Central government [in October, 2023]. The objective was to inform voters about the true picture of the nation’s development against the Centre’s claims. One of those claims is that India has seen all-rounded development and that GDP has increased. While the latter is true, whom the increase has benefited is the question,” he said and noted that the majority of beneficiaries are the rich as evidenced by the increase in wealth share of those who constitute the top 10 per cent of India’s wealthiest. Sreenivasa also highlighted the BJP’s 2019 election manifesto, “The party promised that the national floor level minimum wage would increase over the next five years. But there has been no change: the minimum wage was Rs 178 five years ago and is the same today.”

The report says that approximately 9.79 lakh government job posts lie vacant in Karnataka alone, exacerbating the unemployment crisis. This shortage underscores the urgent need for policies to create more job opportunities in the public sector. Income inequality remains a pressing concern, with the bottom 50 per cent of earners falling below the national minimum wage threshold. Marginalised communities are disproportionately affected, lacking safety nets or protection against economic hardships.

Rajendran Apu, one of the authors of the report told Frontline, “The findings puncture the Central government’s claims of economic development, growth in employment, income equalities, etc. Opposition parties who wish to discredit the claims should make note of the same. This is based on hard data which is representative of 49 crore workers across India.”

Call for action

The authors say the report serves as a wake-up call for policymakers to address the challenges of employment and income inequality. Urgent interventions such as increasing minimum wages, enhancing social security measures, and prioritising job creation are imperative to uplift those most affected by the current crisis. 

It is crucial for the government and stakeholders to prioritise the development of policies that promote inclusive growth and provide equal opportunities for all citizens, states the report. By focusing on economic rights such as employment, fair wages, healthcare, and education, Karnataka can pave the way towards a more prosperous and equitable society.

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The report underscores the imperative for concerted efforts to address the employment crisis and income inequality in Karnataka. By implementing targeted interventions and policy reforms, the State can work towards a future where every individual has access to dignified work, fair wages, and economic security, it notes.

With inputs from Saatvika Radhakrishna

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