THE RE­LI­A­BIL­ITY OF JOBS DATA

India Today - - INSIDE - By Laveesh Bhan­dari The au­thor is an econ­o­mist and di­rec­tor, Indi­cus Foun­da­tion

In­dia col­lects data from many places, in many dif­fer­ent ways, us­ing many dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies. How­ever, as with all data that has po­lit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions, no one is happy with the current em­ploy­ment data. Now the Niti Aayog is hop­ing to get more re­cent data on em­ploy­ment by way of a ‘Pe­ri­odic Labour Force Sur­vey’, which will, it hopes, pro­vide quicker, bet­ter—and higher—em­ploy­ment es­ti­mates.

While in­no­va­tion in gov­ern­ment data collection is al­ways wel­come, the prob­lem be­ing tar­geted needs to be bet­ter un­der­stood. Con­ven­tional sources of data are show­ing num­bers that don’t agree with our ex­pec­ta­tion that eco­nomic growth will go hand in hand with em­ploy­ment growth. Cur­rently avail­able data seems to in­di­cate that there is eco­nomic growth with no con­comi­tant em­ploy­ment growth. This is also hap­pen­ing abroad to some ex­tent, largely due to a tech­no­log­i­cal shift to­wards au­toma­tion, greater use of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and an an­tic­i­pated greater use of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Can that be true of In­dia? Probably not. How can there be eco­nomic growth but lit­tle job growth in a coun­try where ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and such­like have not re­ally be­come main­stream? The ap­par­ent dis­crep­ancy is be­ing blamed on faulty em­ploy­ment mea­sure­ment by those who like the gov­ern­ment and the pro-big-busi­ness ori­en­ta­tion of eco­nomic pol­icy by those who do not.

Is the Niti Aayog wrong in ask­ing for a new sur­vey and ques­tion­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of other em­ploy­ment data? It is tread­ing a dan­ger­ous path. It is eas­ier to buy time when a new sur­vey is announced. It takes about a year or two to put to­gether and im­ple­ment. A sin­gle sur­vey is not much use be­cause there is no com­pa­ra­ble data avail­able; the sec­ond and third sur­vey rounds on­ward is when it be­comes cred­i­ble and use­ful. So, two to three years will have passed be­fore the new em­ploy­ment data can be use­ful. In the in­terim, since the gov­ern­ment it­self has ques­tioned the cred­i­bil­ity of current data sources, those can­not be used. Pol­i­cy­mak­ing dur­ing this in­ter­reg­num will be­come prin­ci­ple-based or pref­er­ence­based rather than data-based. To put it an­other way, in the ab­sence of data, re­spon­si­bil­ity can­not be pinned on the gov­ern­ment, but nor can it be as­signed within the gov­ern­ment.

Let’s take the ven­er­ated NSSO (Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey Of­fice) em­ploy­ment sur­veys, which are un­der­taken al­most ev­ery year with a large and sta­tis­ti­cally de­rived sam­ple size, be­sides the sur­vey the NSSO con­ducts ev­ery five years, with an even larger sam­ple size. The em­ploy­ment num­bers there are the best we have in the coun­try, and I would have fo­cused on im­prov­ing those or­gan­i­cally, and us­ing those num­bers in the in­terim. Even if they are flawed, there are nu­mer­i­cal tech­niques avail­able to ad­just for the flaws.

In ad­di­tion, the CMIE (Cen­tre for Mon­i­tor­ing In­dian Econ­omy), with fund­ing from the NSE (Na­tional Stock Ex­change), has been con­duct­ing mas­sive quar­terly and an­nual al­lIn­dia sur­veys, which can also be used to es­ti­mate em­ploy­ment de­tails. With a few tweaks there, more data on em­ploy­ment would have been avail­able from a com­pletely in­de­pen­dent and do­mes­tic source. In the era of pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ships, the Niti Aayog could have prac­tised what it pro­fesses. Or could it be that the num­bers are not ‘right’ in that data set ei­ther?

There are many pos­si­ble rea­sons why em­ploy­ment growth is cur­rently damp­ened. Tech­nol­ogy change is one and struc­tural shift is an­other. Who knows, the naysay­ers may even be right. Per­haps the new dig­i­tal econ­omy the West cham­pi­ons and In­dia fol­lows is not so em­ploy­ment-friendly. This is a dan­ger­ous pos­si­bil­ity, and we need good quan­ti­ta­tive mon­i­tor­ing and anal­y­sis to un­der­stand how to deal with it. But what will the gov­ern­ment an­a­lyse, what ar­eas will it iden­tify and what so­lu­tions will it im­ple­ment when it has no faith in its own data?

Since the gov­ern­ment it­self has ques­tioned the cred­i­bil­ity of its current em­ploy­ment data sources, those can­not be used now

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