Home / News / India /  Covid-19: Data reinforces socially disadvantaged groups most hit by loss of jobs

NEW DELHI: The economic crisis that has accompanied the covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented. The Centre and the state governments now face the task of providing employment for migrant workers, one of the hardest hit section of the population.

Experts believe that the worst hit by disappearing jobs will the socially weaker sections, especially people belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

While India’s unemployment rate in 2018-19 declined to 5.8% from 6.1% in the preceding year, data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) shows that those belonging to socially disadvantaged groups including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, particularly in urban areas, took a bigger hit due to joblessness.

Released last week, the data shows that unemployment rate in urban areas for SCs increased to 9.3% in 2018-19 from 8.8% in 2017-18, while for STs, it saw a jump to 11.5% from 7.1%.

The overall figure, without the rural-urban distinction, also rose though marginally to 6.4% from 6.3% for SCs and 4.3% to 4.5% for STs. However, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) showed marginal decrease from 6% in 2017-18 to 5.9% in 2018-19.

“Extrapolating the SC and ST higher unemployment rate in 2019-20 and the covid-19 period it will not be a matter of surprise if these social classes in general and daily wage earners in particular have been worst affected. They are more likely to be working as contract workers or daily wagers," said K R Shyam Sunder, a labour economist and professor at XLRI - Xavier’s Institute of Management, Jamshedpur.

The data print is significant because experts feel the trend to have continued through 2019-20 and to have aggravated in the last quarter with over two months national lockdown. They said it reinforces the notion of socially disadvantaged groups, which face "systematic discrimination", could be the most affected during crises like the current one.

The extent of the problem can be gauged from the fact that over 7 million migrant labourers have made to their native places in just four states - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh - over the past few weeks. The challenge is particularly significant for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners because of the four worst affected states, the ruling combine is in power in three.

The lockdown has seen lakhs of migrant workers returning to their native states as the loss of jobs threaten their survival. Experts believe that while those returning to rural areas may have the comfort of the 100-days jobs scheme, absence of such a plan in urban areas could make it worse.

"The labour market forces in the last one year, particularly during covid-19 period, has affected adversely and far more seriously the socially vulnerable groups. They suffer from three types of inequities – of employment, wage and wealth. As a result there is a systematic discrimination against them so they fall in the bottomless pit of informal sector," Sunder added.

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