OPN India unemployment
Job applicants in queue to submit forms at Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital (MMCH) in Guwahati, Assam, India Image Credit: Shutterstock

They are the children of digital — real digital natives — who perceive the world differently from us and are fully at home with the internet in a way we can never hope to be.

Armed with the latest cell phones (they prioritise it over everything else), aged between 20 to 27, they could be living in far flung hamlets, perhaps as first-generation learners.

Totally disinclined to pursue traditional occupations such as farming practised by their parents, they see a technology job as a way out of the village in to big cities they constantly dream of — available as a scroll up and down on their phones.

Consider this: As we celebrate the trio of girls who topped the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam — India’s premier central recruitment exam for recruitment of all top bureaucrats under Government of India — the country’s unemployment stats remain high.

I spoke to at least 40 young, unemployed men and women for this SWAT ANALYSIS. Most of them are based in the vast jobless hub of North India.

Sanjay, who lives in Allahabad, told me that he had been preparing for a government job for six years.

Now at the age of 27, he has no job and no income. Sanjay despairs, saying he gave up after an employment exam was cancelled due to a question paper leak. Like many of the other young people seeking jobs, Sanjay’s parents are marginal farmers, who sold bits of land to subsidise him in the big city in his pursuit of a government job.

The young people I spoke to, had been struggling some for years, some doing badly — paid part time work in the private sector. Others whose resources had run out, turning to domestic labour, especially the girls.

Looking for a (government) job

Most were resigned to their fate. One said, “I drive for a food delivery app but they keep reducing our time of delivery. I know if I drive really rashly, I could have a big accident. I have no insurance. I feel I have no future”.

The government job is perceived by all of them as the 'be all and end all of life'. Many told me in hushed voices that they really don’t want to return to the farm. Most said that if every attempt failed, they would move to a mega-polis like Mumbai to get any sort of job.

Out of the 35 million unemployed in India, 23 per cent are women.

The age composition of the unemployed is also a puzzle. The unemployed who are actively looking for work are in their 20s (nearly 85 per cent of them).

Most young people, across class divides, yearn for government jobs. It’s considered permanent, stable and with good pension provisions, compared to the turbulence of the private sector, where some companies indulge in hire and fire.

With millions of applicants, the government scraps jobs against available vacancies every year. In the last six years, the Indian railways has scrapped 72,000 jobs in the Class 3 and 4 categories. For the past three decades, unemployment has been rising and various governments have suspended employment intake.

India’s demographic dividend

This issue was raised by Varun Gandhi, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP, who tweeted that millions of young people would be heart-broken and frustrated as the government was not hiring against vacancies for which a financial provision already exists.

Gandhi claimed in his tweet that 6 million government vacancies with a financial sanction exist, yet the government was doing nothing to fill up the vacancies.

Gandhi further questioned the sanctioned budget for these vacancies. Every young applicant for these jobs has the right to know where the funds have been utilised and why the government is not filling up the sanctioned vacancies. Gandhi has also tweeted about the corruption in filling government jobs, saying it leaves young people demotivated.

India’s demographic dividend — as this section of the youth is called — is fast turning in to a demographic problem as the economy slides. Neither the private sector nor the government are creating enough jobs and this jobless army of youth has no way of being productive and joining the work force. The figures are scary.

In Bihar, thousands of coaching hubs have mushroomed across the state — all preparing the youth for the elusive government job. These jobs also figure in the marriage market with either the boy or girl having a government job considered a huge fungible plus.

Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan recently made a reference to 25 million youth applying for 90,000 low grade jobs in the Indian Railways as a symptom of the fact that even high growth of the Indian economy has not produced the desired growth.