Kerala’s unemployment rate among youth rises to 40.5%: Here’s why

In 2020, until July 30, only 5,759 have received job placements through Employment Exchanges in Kerala.
Representative image of youngsters rushing with their files
Representative image of youngsters rushing with their files

Scores of job aspirants are on the streets in Kerala, protesting against the regularisation of temporary workers in various state government offices. This protest comes at a time the unemployment rate among youth between 15 and 29 years of age in the state was at 40.5% between January-March 2020, the highest in the country according to the Indian government’s latest Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) for January-March 2020. India's average was at 21%, according to the survey, which was released on December 31, 2020.

The Economic Review, tabled in the Kerala Assembly by Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac on January 14, 2021, revealed that the unemployment rate among youth in the state is around 36% in 2018-19. This is again more than double the national average rate of 17%.

Both surveys indicate that the unemployment rate among the youth was worrying even before the pandemic in mid-March last year, which led to many losing their jobs.

The PLFS defines unemployment as the percentage of people unemployed of the total available labour force, both employed and unemployed. The survey uses the current weekly status (CWS) approach, wherein a person is considered “unemployed” if he/she has not worked even for an hour in one week, although the person had sought work at least for an hour that week.

Incidentally, the unemployment rate among youth between October and December 2019 was 36.3%. It rose by 11.57% in Jan-March 2020.

The Economic Review states: “In Kerala, the unemployment rate of the youth is 35.8% for rural areas and 34.6% for urban areas.”

The unemployment rate among youth in Kerala was also hovering around 35% in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Employment Exchange

Data from the Employment Exchanges in Kerala (central or state government offices that collect information on prospective employers, job seekers and vacancies) reveal that not many have been placed in the last two years. According to the live register of employment exchanges in Kerala, as of July 31, 2020, there were 34.3 lakh job seekers in the state.

Placements through the Employment Exchanges in Kerala have been declining since 2010.

Between 2015 and 2018, the placements increased by 2%, with a slight decrease of 1.6% in 2016. However, in 2019, it declined by 6.67%.

In 2018, 12,887 persons were placed through Employment Exchanges. In 2019, it was 12,027. In 2020, until July 30, only 5,759 persons were placed through the Exchanges.

There are more female job seekers on the live registers in Kerala. The PLFS also showed that the unemployment rate for women was 48.3%. Of the total job seekers in Kerala up to July 31, 2020, 63.6% are women.

In terms of education, the number of persons in the live register who are not educated is 880. The distribution of job seekers by educational level indicates that only 7.9% of the registered persons have qualifications below Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC). About 92.1% of the job seekers are in the category of qualifications having SSLC and above.

The number of professional and technical job seekers, as of July 31, 2020, is 3.5 lakh. ITI certificate holders, diploma holders and engineering together constitute 71% of the total professional and technical job seekers. There are 47,525 registered engineering graduates and 9,000 medical graduates.

Educated unemployment

KP Kannan, a development economist in Kerala, attributes the unemployment in Kerala to educated unemployment, a situation where a person cannot find a job suitable to his qualifications.

“They aspire to get a permanent job, not work for a living. Therefore, they wait for a better opportunity, which creates a situation of high educated unemployment in Kerala,” he said, adding that the unemployment rate is always high among the youth because there are few opportunities for a permanent job or a job suitable for them.

He also pointed out that Kerala's unemployment rate among women is much higher than men. “Men are mobile and thus migrate to other states and countries, whereas, mobility is limited for women,” he added.

According to Kannan, targeted policies are required to reduce unemployment, that is, deploying panchayat level survey and project jobs. “For example, postgraduates without work can be deployed for specific on-the-job work experience in panchayats and municipalities for work such as environmental restoration, public health and so on,” he explained.

Teritiary, secondary sectors need revamp

Pramod Kumar, a former senior advisor with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that unless the service sector (tertiary) matures and goes beyond trading, sales and marketing, and the secondary or manufacturing sector (construction and utilities) becomes more attractive to the youth, the unemployment situation is not going to change. This, he said, is because without both, there are no jobs.

“More than 60% of the state’s economy comes from the tertiary sector, which can provide maximum employment given its size. Unfortunately, though we glamourise it by calling it services, other than the traditional banking and related services, most of it is trading and retailing, which don't provide 'satisfactory' and regular employment,” noted Pramod.

The secondary sector accounts for nearly 25% of our economy, and the next big area that can provide employment, is largely construction and businesses such as seafood processing. “These are not attractive for the local unemployed youth as well, as it involves arduous labour with less attractive salaries,” he added.

Incidentally, in Kerala, most of the construction jobs and the other “manufacturing” jobs are taken up by migrant labourers.

According to Pramod, the primary sector (such as farming, mining and fishing) is very weak, too. “The economic profile of the state has to change. But I think that is highly unlikely,” he added.

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