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‘The Brunt Is Worse For Women’

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‘The Brunt Is Worse For Women’
Lola Nayar - 02 August 2021

Job portals see a rise in postings from micro and small businesses in select sectors. In an interaction with Lola Nayar, Sabina Dewan, President and Executive Director of JustJobs Network, and Senior Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, shares her views on the emerging trends in the job market. Excerpts from the discussion:

What are the current trends in the post-Covid job market?

The pandemic has no doubt wreaked havoc on livelihoods. The unemployment rate has gone up from 7.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2019 to 8.75 per cent in 2020. CMIE recorded unemployment to be 9.3 per cent at the end of the first quarter this year.

And unemployment doesn’t reflect those that drop out of the labour force altogether. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of those who have lost formal sector jobs are entering into informal work arrangements – doing whatever they can to make ends meet. Others, unable to find work, are leaving the labour force. The latter is especially true of women. Covid has made already scarce opportunities for women even more scarce. This is driving the low female labour force participation rate even lower. And none of this reveals the severe effects on the informal sector, including the destruction of livelihoods.

Which are the sectors where jobs are opening up and offering growth prospects?

The Monster Employment Index recorded a 4 per cent rise in overall job postings in May 2021, relative to the same time last year. The authors of the report claim that this is because companies have turned better at adjusting to the changes imposed by the pandemic.

But two caveats are important to keep in mind. First, those posting on a site such as Monster.com are businesses that are aware of, and know how to use, the online job portal. These are usually  registered, organised, bigger businesses that also have a better capacity to withstand the crisis. Micro and small businesses that tend not to post on a site like Monster.com are not accounted for in this analysis. That is where Covid has perhaps dealt its biggest blow.

Second, this rise in postings is for specific sectors that have gained momentum against the backdrop of the pandemic-induced lockdowns, remote and online work. Demand for labour in IT hardware, software, logistics, courier, freight, transportation, telecom and ISP industries has risen. The gig economy – from home catering kitchens to delivery services – have also seen an uptick. All the while, travel, tourism and hospitality continue to suffer. You may have seen the recent analysis that salaries and wages have declined by 15 per cent in the smaller 500 firms (by market cap), whereas they have increased by 5 per cent in the top 100 firms. We have deepening chasms in the economy. And it is clearly hurting those who are ‘below’ the upper-middle class.

Are campus placements happening this year?

There is no doubt that the pandemic has been hard on youth. Before we even talk about placements, there is a need to acknowledge the setbacks to education for children and youth. Even for those that have access to technology and the internet, a purely online education without a human interface cannot compensate for the totality of learning that happens with in-person education at school or university. Education has had a devastating blow in the past 15 months.

Some universities are trying to do placements online. JustJobs Network’s own research suggests that youth were struggling to finish their respective training courses and that little is happening with respect to placement through training institutions. This was a weak spot for our training institutions and the pandemic has made it worse. Anecdotal evidence suggests that campus placements are down significantly – even up to 30-50 per cent relative to the pre-pandemic baseline – aside from sectors like IT, which are doing well.

Are the new jobs more on-site or work from home?

India is a dual economy. Much of our labour force doesn’t have the luxury of working from home. Vegetable vendors, construction workers, security guards, domestic workers and even many gig workers provide location-based services. Working from home is a luxury that only those with the technology and skills can undertake and this is often limited to those in the formal sector. So simplistic frameworks tend to feed inaccurate models, which then lead to ineffective policy and firm choices – so we should avoid that.

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