Why is everyone promising jobs in Bihar elections?
The political polemics notwithstanding, what explains the mad rush for promising jobs in the Bihar elections? An HT analysis shows that unemployment may be a bigger problem in Bihar than in the rest of India.Updated: Oct 23, 2020, 08:16 IST
After the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) promised a million government jobs if the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) it leads is voted to power in Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has tried to outdo it by promising 1.9 million jobs in its election manifesto, released on Thursday. The BJP’s promise will be an embarrassment of sorts to its alliance partner Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), whose leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar has described the RJD’s promise as impractical. The political polemics notwithstanding, what explains the mad rush for promising jobs in the Bihar elections? An HT analysis shows that unemployment may be a bigger problem in Bihar than in the rest of India.
Bihar’s unemployment rate is higher than the all-India average
According to the 2018-19 Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), the official source of employment statistics in India, the unemployment rate in Bihar was 10.2% in India, way above the all-India average of 5.8%. A comparison with previous Employment Unemployment Surveys (EUS), the predecessor of the PLFS, and the 2017-18 PLFS shows that joblessness in Bihar has been worsening vis-a-vis the rest of India. In 2004-05, Bihar’s unemployment rate was 0.8 times the all-India unemployment rate. This ratio has increased over the years. It was 1.6 in 2011-12, 1.2 in 2017-18, and 1.8 in 2018-19.
Only 10% of jobs in Bihar are salaried jobs
Granted, unemployment rates do not capture the true labour market pain in a country like India. If all managers lost their jobs and started working as farmers or construction workers, the unemployment rate would remain unchanged. Therefore, it is important to look at the quality of jobs in addition to the absolute numbers. Bihar fares worse than the all-India average when it comes to the share of workers who have a regular job. According to the 2018-19, PLFS, 23.8% of India’s workers had a salaried job. This number was just 10.4% for Bihar. The share of workers with a salaried job has increased from 4.2% in 2004-05 EUS, which corresponds with the period when Nitish Kumar took over the chief minister of the state. However, the points remains that it is still significantly worse than the all-India situation.
Bihar sees the biggest outmigration for work among major states
Lack of quality jobs in the state has forced Bihari workers to out-migrate for employment. According to data from the 2011 census, Bihar had the highest share of migrants who moved out for work, employment or business reasons. A 2018 World Bank paper by Gaurav Nayyar and Kyoung Yang Kim found that migrant remittances had a share of 35% in Bihar’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) and positively affected consumption at the household level. A disproportionate dependence on remittance incomes must have hurt Bihar more than other states after the nationwide lockdown imposed in March this year, in the aftermath of the coronavirus disease outbreak. It is natural that discontent with a poor job scenario in the state has become a big issue in the polls which are taking place just a few months after the lockdown.
Employment is an issue which cuts across class and caste lines
Politics in Bihar has been dominated by caste-based fissures for a long time. While the RJD-led alliance can bank on the support of Muslims and Yadavs, it is not enough to ensure victory in the state. By championing the cause of employment, the opposition is trying to take up an issue which resonates across caste and class boundaries, especially sections which have been pro-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the past. Unemployment rates had risen sharply among all major social groups in the state between 2011-12 and 2018-19. The increase was the highest among people who belong neither to the scheduled castes (SCs) nor from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Every fifth person who at least had a graduate degree and was a part of the labour force – either working or looking for a job – was unemployed in Bihar in 2018-19. Unemployment rates even for those with very little education were significantly higher in Bihar than the all-India numbers.