Understanding Unemployment
Editorial

Understanding Unemployment

September 27, 2019

The terminology that economists take fascination to explain various features relating to countries in a seemingly simplistic way often challenges the comprehension on the part of lay people, including even the literati. The economic health of a country is portrayed by them with terms such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product), literacy, life expectancy and also unemployment rate, narratives about which in various dailies are invariably passed over by most readers, remaining satisfied or dissatisfied as the case may be according as the health remains robust or weak. The aforementioned volatile features expressed numerically, their changes stated to first or second decimal place, doesn’t carry any clear message to lay people. While in the case of the term unemployment, those who are without a job (with income) bear the burnt of the pain, may not be able to make out how the rate of unemployment is determined, except maybe they understand that as the rate increases more enter the unemployed bracket of the population. Even as one has a job and earns some income, the questions of its adequacy to support the family, quality of work and consistency with educational qualification as well as skill loom large, the answers to which take us to the term underemployment.

The Sanskrit quote Udyogam Purusha Lakshanam, which translates to “It is a must criterion for males to do a job (in order to nurture their families)” is believed to have come into existence in times of a distant past in the country when some people chose to be idle, saying that God will look after all their needs, encouraging begging in the process. Any person, irrespective of gender, who does not work is not considered by society as a proper human. Further, the philosophy of dignity of labour espoused by many thinkers as respecting all types of jobs equally can lead to proper understanding of unemployment.

The International Labour Organisation has considered a person as employed if he or she has worked merely for an hour in a week. In India, where the unorganised workforce is engaged in work mostly informally, the workers don’t consider themselves as employed in any sense of the term. The mass of roadside operators such as vendors of knick-knacks and sellers of snacks who toil for nearly 12 hours a day to earn a living and ensure retaining the spot of business on the street provide a glaring example of such employed lot. However, the official statistical machinery would consider even the spouses of such toiling people to be employed. Even the wife of the milkman washing the milk cans could be classified as employed, although doesn’t earn money in real terms. Thus, given the flaw in the definition of employment, the number of really employed people in the country is a gross overestimate, irrespective of the fact that they are working.

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It is accepted that only a person who works sufficiently contributing meaningfully to the economic well-being of the family, overestimating the figure for employment amounts to understanding the figure for unemployment. Lastly, defining employment only on the basis of number of hours a person works without taking into account the income earned is flawed.Understanding Unemployment

The terminology that economists take fascination to explain various features relating to countries in a seemingly simplistic way often challenges the comprehension on the part of lay people, including even the literati. The economic health of a country is portrayed by them with terms such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product), literacy, life expectancy and also unemployment rate, narratives about which in various dailies are invariably passed over by most readers, remaining satisfied or dissatisfied as the case may be according as the health remains robust or weak. The aforementioned volatile features expressed numerically, their changes stated to first or second decimal place, doesn’t carry any clear message to lay people. While in the case of the term unemployment, those who are without a job (with income) bear the burnt of the pain, may not be able to make out how the rate of unemployment is determined, except maybe they understand that as the rate increases more enter the unemployed bracket of the population. Even as one has a job and earns some income, the questions of its adequacy to support the family, quality of work and consistency with educational qualification as well as skill loom large, the answers to which take us to the term underemployment.

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The Sanskrit quote Udyogam Purusha Lakshanam, which translates to “It is a must criterion for males to do a job (in order to nurture their families)” is believed to have come into existence in times of a distant past in the country when some people chose to be idle, saying that God will look after all their needs, encouraging begging in the process. Any person, irrespective of gender, who does not work is not considered by society as a proper human. Further, the philosophy of dignity of labour espoused by many thinkers as respecting all types of jobs equally can lead to proper understanding of unemployment.

The International Labour Organisation has considered a person as employed if he or she has worked merely for an hour in a week. In India, where the unorganised workforce is engaged in work mostly informally, the workers don’t consider themselves as employed in any sense of the term. The mass of roadside operators such as vendors of knick-knacks and sellers of snacks who toil for nearly 12 hours a day to earn a living and ensure retaining the spot of business on the street provide a glaring example of such employed lot. However, the official statistical machinery would consider even the spouses of such toiling people to be employed. Even the wife of the milkman washing the milk cans could be classified as employed, although doesn’t earn money in real terms. Thus, given the flaw in the definition of employment, the number of really employed people in the country is a gross overestimate, irrespective of the fact that they are working.

It is accepted that only a person who works sufficiently contributing meaningfully to the economic well-being of the family, overestimating the figure for employment amounts to understanding the figure for unemployment. Lastly, defining employment only on the basis of number of hours a person works without taking into account the income earned is flawed.

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