Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic in India

Dr Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Anshula Mehta and Varun Kumar*

As the corona virus continues, it amplified the challenges to the youth with regard to the employment opportunities. The policy steps taken by the government authority have resulted in slowdown the economic activities, which leads to mass unemployment and in some cases, people lost their jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation Report titled “COVID-19 and the world of work” (fourth edition) published on 27 May, 2020, around 94 per cent of the world’s workers are living in countries with some sort of workplace closure measures in place.

There is an urgent demand of comprehensive policies that protect the youth and create the new employment opportunities. Keeping this in mind, on the Occasion of World Population Day Center for Work and Welfare, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi organized the Panel Discussion on Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Amidst the COVID19 Pandemic in India: The Way Forward for Youth Employment and Opportunities on July 11, 2020.

Demographic Dividend

Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director IMPRI, introduced the topic and welcomed the distinguished Panel. She commenced the discussion by acknowledged the Occasion of World Population Day. She stated that World Population Day is observed every year since 1989 when the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme took inspiration from the date of 11th July 1987.

The significance of this day is that it seeks the attention of the World community on the population issues and their contemporary challenges for the society especially the youth. In India, the major concern for the community at the large is the growing population with highest number of youth population i.e. 28 per cent of the total population of the country.

She further stated that this youth population of the country is considered as the “Demographic Dividend” which implies if the available youth of the country is equipped with quality education and skilled training, they able to seek the decent and relevant jobs according to their skills and training. The ultimate result of this approach leads to the economic development of the nation. She emphasized on the growing debate of ‘Disaster and Dividend’ where the youth of the country are very anxious about their jobs.

Prof P C Mohanan, Former Acting Chairperson, National Statistical Commission, Government of India, chaired the panel discussion and acknowledged that there is a need for the discussion upon the theme of Youth employment during the corona pandemic times. He commenced the discussion by explaining the meaning of the word “Demographic Dividend”.

He said it is technical term which implies the demographic transition and it is slow process which gradually happened in the economy of the every country. He stated that the people below the age of 20 years was 51 per cent in 1970s, now its 41 per cent and it will be 22 percent in 2050, and resulted in demographic shift. By the 2050 India will lose the demographic advantage. He also stated the median age of the population is 28 years in India, Japan (48.6 years) and China (42 years). This numerical data clearly shows the demographic advantage in favour of India.

P C Mohanan raised the question that how we utilise this demographic advantage and concert into demographic dividend? This is possible when the youthful workforce of the country become the employable. While stating the data about the employability he said it is unfortunate that we have highest number of unemployment rate i.e. 15 percent to 29 percent. The unemployment challenges in front of nation effects the demographic advantage. He recognised the current pandemic challenge which become the hurdle in employment and economic activities of the nation.

Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director IMPRI, presented the topic on the behalf of the IMPRI. She stated that Demographic Dividend is the benefit a country gets when its working population outgrows its dependants such as children and old people.

She explained the stages involved in the Demographic dividends which includes (i) Stage 1: Improved income and health reduces the infant mortality and a baby boom arises, (ii) Stage 2: the baby boomers, once regarded as the population curse, grow up to create an unprecedentedly large army of income earners thereby the boosting the GDP, (iii) Stage 3: Demographic starts disappearing. While explaining the stage she gave example of Japan, Germany, Russia, Italy, etc., where people began to retire, and the proportion of non –earning rises rapidly.

Dr Arjun Kumar, Director IMPRI, Ranchi China-India Visiting Scholars Fellow, Ashoka University, presented the short profile of the presentation named “Demographic Dividend in Asia”. He stated and taken a reference from the Mr.P C Mohanan discussion that in case of Asia – North, West, Central and South East , there are difference in the median age of the population. He discussed the demographic transition and stated that transition happens largely because of a decrease in the TFR.

Dr Kumar asserted that on fact that Subcontinents countries including India has advantage to take benefit from this demographic transition. There is a need to utilise this demographic transition wisely and diligently. He also stated that we have 2/3rd as working age population and from this we have only 1/3rd who gets employment. This highlighted the problem of unemployment and under-employment.

Further, he expressed the concern that according to the various Survey reports educated women in the society are not participated in the employment process and market. Moreover, the most of the youth who are educated are not employable because of lack of skill and training. 

Prof Balwant Singh Mehta Research Director, IMPRI, Lucknow Senior Fellow, Institute for Human Development (IHD), Delhi, presented another short profile of the presentation. He focused on the “Demographic Dividend: Demography and Youth in India. He said it is wrong to make assumption that demographic dividend in India is same. It is different from State to State and depends upon the various government policies and its impact.

He stated that by 2030, India will be the most populous country with 1.46 billion people surpassing China’s projected population of 1.39 billion. He also stated the data relating to the median age of India where Indian will be 32 years in 2030, which is much younger than US (39), UK(42), China(43) and Brazil (35). Prof Balwant stated the comparative data of Indian States relating to the demographic dividend. He discussed the role of ‘Education and Skills’ in the demographic dividend. He stated the data 28 per cent youths in India belong to the age group of 15-29 years. 

The half of the youth have less than secondary education or illiterate and only 13 per cent are graduate. Prof Balwant also emphasised upon the ‘Demographic Dividend: Employment and Unemployment’. He stated only 5.5 million additional jobs had been created in the country during 2017-18 against 8 million youth which entered into the job markets. He showed the concern over the problem that India is facing the huge unemployment problem with 6.1 per cent overall unemployment which is highest in 45 years.

At the end of presentation Prof Balwant discussed the current problem of COVID19 and its impact upon the employment opportunities. The Covid-19 lockdown slowing the economic growth and leads to the structural weakness in the financial sector. As per the CMIE, the unemployment rate is record high of 24 percent.

Mr Toshi Wungtung Member of Legislative Assembly, Shamator Constituency, Nagaland, commenced the discussion with primarily focus on the impact and effect of corona virus pandemic in the State of Nagaland. He stated that although the number of corona cases in the Nagaland is low, but it effect the nature of economic activities of the Nagaland. The sudden shut down of industries, factories and other departmental activities affect the people of Nagaland hugely.

Mr Toshi stated the data about the State of Nagaland like 70 per cent of the Construction worker left the State due to COVID19, shutdown the transport hugely cost the Transport department, Tourism stop. He expressed that there is need of serious comprehensive step should be taken by both government and the member of the civil society in the pandemic times. This will help to revive the economic and ensure the employment to the people of State and migrants. 

Prof Vinoj Abraham Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, stated that demographic dividend is not automatically perceived, it is attached with the demographic transition. Firstly, he stated argument of economic perspective of demographic transition i.e. structural transition of economy.

He said demographic transition of an economy is closely linked with the structural transition of an economy. For instance, there is always a shift from agricultural to service to secondary sector. This is the part of structural transition in European counties. But in India, we had demographic transition, not structural transition. 

Secondly, while discussing further Prof Vinoj stated another perspective of demographic dividend that without addressing the female workforce participation rate we cannot show the true picture of demographic dividend. He considered the women participation as the core of the demographic dividend. He said that cultural norms is the factor that leads to the low participation of the female in market. 

Thirdly, he focused on the question of employability and stated that the large workforce in the market are highly unskilled or lack of proper training. This creates the challenge of high unemployment rate in the country. Lastly, he emphasized on the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic for the youth and resulted to mass unemployment, layoff, etc. He suggested the solutions which help to generate employment and utilised the workforce in the market. For example, decentralisation the economy, deregulation the economy, reimagining the economic approaches, promote small scale industries, etc.

Prof Anjana Thampi Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat, focused upon the ‘Situation of Workforce’ during the corona pandemic. She quoted the newspaper reports where the Phd, Scholars applied for the peon and clerk position in the government department. She stated that lack of skills and course curriculum which not support the market demand and supply leads to the unemployment especially among the youth of the country at the large scale.

Prof Anjana emphasized upon the accounts of women stories during the corona pandemic. She said the women both in Urban and rural regions are largely affected by the pandemic. The Urban women lost their jobs while the household chores women in the rural regions increased. She stated the data that around the 27 billion lost their jobs. Lastly, she also suggested some proposal such as generating the good jobs, guaranteed employment under the government schemes to the poor section of society, redesigning the economy sector, etc.

Ritika Gupta, Senior Research Assistant, IMPRI, commenced the discussion with presentation of article titled “Work Life of the Youth in the Times of COVID-19: Perplexed State of Mind, Especially for Youth Indian Women” published in Journal of Development Policy Review (JDPR), IMPRI. She stated the challenges faced by the youths which includes:

  • a lack of knowledge on where and how to look for the jobs,
  • outdated skills that do not address the labour demands,
  • Education and Job mismatch

She discussed the sectoral composition and said that there is gradual shift from the agricultural sector and manufacturing sector to non- manufacturing sector and service sector.

She also stated the reasons for the Rural-Urban migration which includes (i) Good Quality of Education, (ii) Highest paying jobs, (iii) Good quality of life. Ms Gupta stated the data relating to the ‘Gender Divide’. The data consist the following: unemployment rate among youths- Male 18.7 per cent and Female 27.2 per cent, Work participation rate- Male is three-fifth and Female is one-fifth and Graduated youths- Male 47.7 per cent and Female 29.7 per cent. Moreover, she also presented the social and psychological facets of unemployment faced by the youths in India.

Anshula Mehta, Senior Research Assistant, IMPRI stated the challenges faced by the youth during the COVID19. It includes

  • institutional failure, ill organised labour market and skill mismatch,
  • low prevalence of technical training among youth workforce,
  • Demand drive employment and supply driven education, etc.

She also focused on the opportunities for the youth available in the private sector and government schemes such as Atma Nirbar (self-reliant), assured employment schemes, expansion of apprenticeship and training and curriculum as per industry. The impact of corona virus pandemic made the youth vulnerable as there is layoff of employees by the companies, lack of job opportunities especially for the women, and uncertainty in market. Finally, she ends with the hope and stated that there is demand for need and support to the youth in securing the employment.

Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director IMPRI, gave the vote of thanks to Chair and all panelists for participating and sharing the intellectual insight about the demographic dividend and the youth employment in the pandemic times. She also acknowledged all the efforts, intellectual insights, information and resolutions suggested by the panelists for the better of the youth during the Covid-19 times. Finally, she assures that we will continue to hold such policy debates and discussions on these important issues also in the future.

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*Varun Kumar is a research intern at IMPRI and pursuing Masters from Ambedkar University.

Picture Courtesy: The New Indian Express