NEW DELHI : Nearly a quarter of young urban jobseekers remained unemployed during the December quarter of 2018, signalling widespread distress in the job market, according to the latest quarterly employment survey.

The figures mean bad news for the 1 million Indians, who enter the workforce every month. They also underscore a lack of vigour in the economy.

Unemployment among urban youth in the age group of 15-29 years, who are looking for jobs, has been consistently rising for three quarters and was at 23.7% in the December quarter, shows the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data for 2017-18 and the December quarter released on Friday by the statistics ministry. This is despite the urban youth spending an average 11 years in formal education, compared with 9.3 years spent by their rural counterparts.

PLFS was launched with the objective of measuring employment every three months in urban areas and once a year in both rural and urban areas. The quarterly survey only captures data classed as current weekly status (CWS), while the annual survey measures both the usual status and CWS.

A person who is unable to get work for even an hour in the last seven days despite seeking employment is considered unemployed under CWS. Under usual status, the employment activity of a person is determined on the basis of a reference period of 365 days preceding the date of the survey.

When measured by the usual status for 2017-18, male youth unemployment rose to 18.7% from 8.1% in 2011-12, while for females it rose to 27.2% from 13.1% in 2011-12.

Labour force participation, or people working or looking for jobs in the age group of 15-29 years, has been declining and touched 36.9% in 2017-18 as more among them, especially females, enrolled for higher studies. The rising unemployment rate despite falling labour force participation for the youth is more worrying.

This is likely to raise questions about whether India is suffering from jobless growth. According to Census 2011, India has 333 million youth—a number that is likely to touch 367 million in 2021 and 370 million by 2031.

Youth unemployment in the December quarter of 2018 was the highest in Bihar (40.9%), followed by Kerala (37%) and Odisha (35.7%), while it was the lowest in Gujarat (9.6%).

“With this huge rise in youth unemployment, it is hard to reconcile this information with the EPFO (Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation) data that people keep talking about, because a majority of the new entrants to EPFO would be the younger people," said former chief statistician of India Pronab Sen. “A lot of scratching around needs to be done to find an answer."

A Mint calculation showed that during the October-December quarter of 2018, 1.1 million net new entrants joined EPFO in the age group of “below 18 to 28", out of 1.4 million total net new entrants across age groups.

According to the quarterly PLFS data, among regular wage/salaried employees in urban areas, earnings during the preceding calendar month ranged from 17,000 to 18,000 among males and from 14,000 to 15,000 among females.

The youth accounted for 28.2% of urban males and 27.8% of urban females. During 2017-18, among people aged 15-29 years, the share of the educated was 65.8% among urban males. It was 65.4% among urban females. Among people aged 15 years and above, 98.5% in rural areas and 94.3% in urban areas have no technical education. A degree in engineering, medicine, agriculture, etc. or a diploma/certificate in agriculture, engineering/technology, medicine, crafts, etc. was included under technical education.

The percentage of urban youth who received formal vocational training increased marginally to 4.4% in 2017-18 from 4.2% in 2011-12. In urban areas, among people who received formal vocational/technical training, 57.1% were employed, 11.3% were unemployed and nearly 31.5% were not in the labour force.

A higher percentage of males compared to females had received either formal or non-formal vocational training.

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