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Youth Employed in MGNREGA Signal Rural Distress? – Facts for The Indian Express and Congress

youth employed in MGNREGA

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been the center of discussion for quite long especially after its efficacy has been questioned in improving the rural scenario. Data regarding MGNREGA is often presented in bits and pieces resulting in an incomplete picture being created.

The Indian Express published a news giving out “distress signal” about increasing number of youths between 18 to 30 years of age, showing that increasing rural distress is forcing youth to take up employment under MGNREGA. It also claims that GST and Demonetization played its role in disturbing the rural setup in India.

Without confirming the data, the news was tweeted by some parties calling it a “worrying trend”

But does the article reflect the true picture? Does it present the data completely? We decided to have a look at the data ourselves.

An Incomplete Picture on Youth Employed Under MGNREGA

The Indian Express report tries to give absolute number of youths in 18-30 year interval employed under MGNREGA.

“The total number of young workers (18-30 years) employed under the job guarantee scheme was more than 1 crore in 2013-14 which came down to 58.69 lakh in 2017-18. However, their number started rising again and reached 70.71 lakh in 2018-19. This upward trend is continuing during the current financial year as the number of young persons employed under MGNREGA has reached 57.57 lakh for figures up to October 21, 2019.”

Notice how selectively the data of 2013-14, 2017-18 and 2018-19 is being quoted. This itself proves that the comprehensive picture is not being shown.

What the Indian Express perhaps forgot is that it is futile to see absolute numbers of youth employed. The total number of employments under MGNREGA of all age groups has also grown over the years, including the youth. Thus, the correct way of looking at the statistics is the youth (18 to 30 years) employed as a percent of the total employment.

We checked the data from the official data portal of MGNREGA and found out the following available data from the year 2011-12 to 2019-20.

Year Youth (18-30 years) employed
Total people employed
Percentage of youth employed
(A/B) x 100
2011-12 1,47,48,019 7,80,74,711 18.8
2012-13 1,32,41,780 7,49,38,692 17.6
2013-14 1,03,29,428 6,91,87,274 14.9
2014-15 73,23,098 5,78,12,553 12.6
2015-16 69,86,865 6,76,85,065 10.3
2017-18* 56,78,095 7,15,66,006 7.9
2018-19 68,50,571 7,34,87,480 9.3
2019-20** 55,49,462 5,37,30,960 10.2

*Data for 2016-17 is incomplete on website, hence omitted
** The data for 2019-20 is till 22nd October

If we observe, the percentage of youth employed has gone down consistently and recorded a slight growth since 2018-19 and provisionally for 2019-20. However, the increased number is still conclusively lesser than that seen during 2011-12 (18.8%). We can thus note a trend that the number of youth opting for employment under MGNREGA has been going down since last decade.

It’s not that the Indian Express report hasn’t noted this fact. The report says-

“In 2013-14, the ratio of young workers among total MGNREGA workers was 13.64 per cent which came down to 7.73 percent in 2017-18 before rising to 9.1 percent in 2018-19 and 10.06 percent in 2019-20.”

But this quote doesn’t tell you that the current ratio is nowhere close to the high of 18.8% in 2011-12. Not mentioning this fact prevents the people from seeing the complete picture.

The Indian Express doesn’t stop at that. It quotes a social activist who conveniently links this half information to the slowdown in the economy, GST and Demonetization.

“There is a slowdown in the economy. The situation is bleak for young people. They have to sustain their education and find livelihood. When they are unable to find job, they turn to MGNREGA. MGNREGA is stop-gap arrangement for them,’’ said Nikhil Dey, founding member of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, an NGO that claims that it is closely working on MGNREGA.

Perhaps Mr Dey did not go into the detail of MGNREGA numbers. Had he seen it, he would have realized the situation in 2011-12 was much worse and no amount of rural distress could make us reach that situation again.

Another interesting fact to be noted is that the falling percentage of youth in MGNREGA did not reverse despite 2014-15 and 2015-16 being drought years.

The Possible Reasons

What could be the reason for this reduction in number of youth under MGNREGA? One reason can be that the youth in rural areas are looking at better skilled jobs than the unskilled labor offered under MGNREGA. This can be gauged from the fact that the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) for Higher Education has gone up consistently since 2011. The report by MHRD says that the GER improved from 19.4 in 2010-11 to 24.5 in 2015-16. The recent All India Survey on Higher Education 2019 says the GER stands at 26.3 in 2018-19. This shows that the youth may be looking for better skills to boost their employability.

In any case, it is not appropriate for the Indian Express to link every piece of information to the slowdown in the economy, especially when the information itself is incomplete.


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