Verrrry slowly, the world’s fastest-growing economy is realising the importance of job data

Measure it right.
Measure it right.
Image: Reuters/Babu
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India has never had reliable jobs data. The employment numbers available with the country’s Labour Bureau are often dated—the latest data available right now is for the September 2016 quarter—and are updated sporadically.

The Narendra Modi government, however, seems to have finally realised that robust job data is critical to measure growth in Asia’s third-largest economy.

The government has formed a task force to suggest a method to capture reliable and well-timed job data. While the task force will submit its suggestions to the government, it is still unclear how exactly the new employment data will look or how often will it be updated.

The task force will be headed by Arvind Panagariya, vice-chairman of the NITI Aayog, a policy think tank that advises the government, and will include members from the labour and statistics departments. The private sector will be represented by Manish Sabharwal, chairman of Teamlease, a human resource outsourcing firm.

“The government attaches the highest priority to job creation. India suffers from a lack of reliable, timely data on employment which has made it difficult for policymakers and independent observers to assess the extent of employment generation at different points of time. Some data is collected and published by certain agencies including the Labour Bureau, but the coverage is very small,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement on May 09, which announced the creation of the task force.

For Modi, job creation has been a top priority ever since his Bharatiya Janata Party put out its manifesto (pdf) for the 2014 general elections. But the government hasn’t really managed to create enough jobs, despite initiatives like Make in India and Startup India. Data showed that job growth in 2015 was the lowest in at least seven years.

India will have the world’s largest young workforce by 2020, and it is critical for the government to begin delivering on its promise before the 2019 general elections.

The world’s fastest-growing economy could emulate the US in this respect, where employment numbers are released every month and come with a lag of just one month. Many experts and analysts look at these numbers for gauging how the American economy is performing.

Meanwhile, another big gap in India’s current employment numbers is that the huge unorganised sector—which makes up 90% of India’s workforce—isn’t included in the analysis. “The concept of employment is nebulous. Not every unemployed person records his or name in the category. Besides, as several activities are unorganised, disguised unemployment makes it hard to identify and quantify joblessness,” Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at CARE Ratings, wrote in April 2016.