Real earnings have increased only for casual work, economists said at a conference titled ‘Measuring Recovery’.

Several economists have termed the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) claim that the labour market witnessed an upward trend in employment with 15 million people entering the workforce between July 2022 and March 2023 sham. A fall in unemployment is not equal to a rise in employment, economists said at a two-day conference on finance and economy with the theme ‘Measuring Recovery’ organised by Centre for Financial Accountability, Economic Research Foundation and Focus on the Global South in the national capital from November 29 to 30. Most of the new jobs are driven by distress while data shows that the average earning is increasing, the economists said. But breaking the data down in different categories shows that real earnings are increasing only for casual work. In other categories, earnings are either stagnant or going down in real terms. Besides, the percentage of employers is stagnating, they said. “The type of job that constitutes the highest share of the workforce is not just hugely precarious in its nature but also the real earnings from the job have not seen any rise,” Mrinalini Jha of OP Jindal Global University said.

Alluding to the government employment data, Dipa Sinha of Ambedkar University said, “Now, we have to challenge labour statistics as well. The way they have been twisted to show that there is no problem of female unemployment.”Sinha added that the government has also started counting unpaid domestic work. “But to what end does it actually empower women? If we really care about their work, we must invest in infrastructure that supports them—like childcare facilities—but our interest lies in just counting their work, and driving employment figures.”Issues like official claims on recovery, unequal K-shaped recovery, corporate write-offs and rural debt crisis, labour, wages and social protection and financial recovery were discussed.

Eminent economists like former JNU professor Arun Kumar, Economic Research Foundation retired professor CP Chandrashekhar and School of Development Studies (Ambedkar University) assistant professor Nandini Nayak spoke during the conference. Senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, CESP (JNU) professor Surajit Mazumdar, All India Bank Employees Association joint secretary Devidas Tuljapurkar, former All India Bank Officers Confederation general secretary Thomas Franco, TISS (Hyderabad) assistant professor Arvind Pandey and other eminent people also spoke. “The government’s exaggerated claims about India’s rapid growth are echoed even by the UN and IMF, relying on the government-provided data,” Kumar said. “But their data collection method is deeply flawed. New indicators are required based on fresh surveys. But no new survey of the unorganised sector has been conducted since 2015,” he added. The Reserve Bank of India recently recognised the global headwinds India faces, he said. “These include challenges of a daunting cost of living crisis, high levels of sovereign debt, tight financial conditions, uncertainties of war, climate crisis and so on.” However, “there is a rather celebratory note in the self-appraisal of the government in terms of India’s economic recovery”, Kumar said.

Chandrashekhar spoke about a “peculiar inflationary rise in India driven by two large contributors comprising oil and food, which have added to the woes of the people”. He also mentioned the “large amount of money that came into lower middle-income countries, which ultimately has resulted in rising debt”. Speaking in a session on ‘Unequal recovery and its costs’, Thakurta said, “We have gone one step further from cronyism. The nexus between governments and conglomerates has been strengthened like never before. We are moving towards oligarchy.”

The session titled ‘Fractured Recovery—Socio-Economic toll of Divisive Politics’ shed light on the impact of divisive politics on the lives and economic opportunities available for the Muslim community and focussed on how Muslims are ghettoised, not just in terms of their living spaces in cities but also as segments of the labour market.

The conference also marked the release of the second edition of the ‘State of Finance in India’ report. Edited by Chandrashekhar, Jayati Ghosh, Shalmali Guttal, Joe Athialy and Anirban Bhattacharya and published by Yoda press, the report is a first of its kind that expands the domain of finance and economics beyond the confines of ivory tower experts. The report invites writings from a cross section of academics, policy makers, activists, social practitioners and eminent economists who engage with questions from the ground.

Ambedkar University assistant professor Dipa Sinha, CESP professor Praveen Jha, JNU associate professor Chirashree Dasgupta, LIFE founder Ritwick Dutta, environmental justice activist Manshi Asher and JNU assistant professor Ghazala Jamil also spoke at various sessions.

This article was originally published in Newsclick and can be read here.

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