ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tracking Employment

Will quarterly and annual surveys of employment give us more and better information?

The announcement by the Ministry of Statistics andProgramme Implementation, Government of India that it has decided to conduct quarterly and annual surveys of employment is a welcome step. Regular updates on employment are particularly important for assessing the impact of economic policies on the lives of people. Currently, the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) is the principal source of data on employment (various measures are estimated) and comparable survey rounds of sample populations are done once in five years. Inaddition, the Labour Bureau has started collecting annual data on employment since 2008. The census also gives a broad picture of workforce and employment in the economy but it is a once in a decade number.

The nature and frequency of the new surveys would depend a lot on the type of data they would be collecting. Perhaps it is more pertinent to ask what exactly we need to know about the labour markets in addition to what we already know. One clear concern is that the numbers reported by various sources give different and at times conflicting pictures. For example, the 68th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) (2011–12) reported that with a large number of workers moving out of agriculture, the share of agriculture in workforce has come down to 49% as per the Usual Principal and Subsidiary Status definition. This figure is at variance with what is reported by Census 2011, where agriculture was still the livelihood of 55% of the country’s total main and marginal workers. Further disaggregating the data, studies have found that the decline in agricultural employment is largely in medium- to large-sized villages (also called Census towns) while in smaller villages of about 1,000 population, agriculture still employs over 70% of the workforce. A large number of micro studies point to widely varying patterns of occupational diversification in rural India. The difference in choice of villages and households along therural–urban gradation in different surveys might be one of theprimary reasons for such diverging results. Hence, more information flow at greater frequency might prove helpful in cross-checking the findings and capturing a realistic picture ofemployment trends in the country.

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