An unhealthy recovery

by Mahesh Vyas

Most of the employment that was lost immediately after the imposition of a nationwide lockdown has repaired. An estimated 121.5 million jobs were forfeited by the lockdown in its first month, in April 2020. This loss narrowed down to 100.3 million in May and then dramatically to a much smaller, 29.9 million in June. July 2020 saw a further reduction in this loss of jobs to 11 million.

While in April, 30 per cent of the employed persons had lost their employment, by July less than 3 per cent were bereft of their source of livelihood. While the magnitude of this loss pales in front of the big loss of April, at 11 million, it is still a significant setback.

The recovery in jobs reflects, to a great extent, an unlocking of the economy from the draconian cessation of practically all economic activities save a few in late March and through most of April. Perhaps, it also reflects the desperation of Indians to get back to some employment after a rather prolonged involuntary break.

The recovery is largely in informal jobs. The situation has worsened for the relatively better jobs, i.e. salaried jobs. While jobs have recovered, this recovery has left out healthier, salaried jobs. In this sense it is an unhealthy recovery.

Small traders, hawkers and daily wage labourers were the worst hit by the lockdown in April. Of the 121.5 million jobs lost in that month, 91.2 million were among these. This category of employment accounted for about 32 per cent of the total employment but, it suffered 75 per cent of the hit in April. Large numbers of these people lost their source of livelihood so quickly because their employment is almost entirely informal. They have an employment in hand only when the economy around them is humming. When this economy shuts down, they lose their employment during that period. Similarly, as the economy unlocks in steps, these jobs come back almost in lockstep.

Of the 91.2 million such jobs lost in April, 14.4 million came back in May, 44.5 million in June and 25.5 million in July. Only 6.8 million remain to return.

Many entrepreneurs also declared themselves unemployed during the lockdown. These include businessmen who own fixed assets and hire people for business purposes; qualified self-employed professionals like practicing doctors, lawyers or accountants; and other self-employed entrepreneurs like taxi operators. These collectively are an estimated 78 million. They account for about 19 per cent of total employment. 18.2 million of these declared themselves unemployed in April. Most of these came back to employment by July 2020. Their behaviour has been similar to that of the small traders and daily wage labourers.

The other two large categories of employment have seen different outcomes from the lockdown.

First, we see an extraordinary rush into farming. According to estimates from Consumer Pyramids Household Survey, there were 111.3 million people who declared their occupation as farming in 2019-20. This estimate had risen to 117 million in March 2020 and remained there in April as well. There is never any loss of employment in farming. People just migrate out of farming, mostly voluntarily, in search for better paying employment. But, people who can, do migrate into farming when they lose non-farming jobs. This explains why the lockdown had practically no impact on farm employment in April. In May, employment in farming inched up to 118.5 million.

Then, in June 2020 farm employment zoomed up to 130 million. Good rains and the consequent aggressive sowing absorbed a lot of the labour that was losing jobs in the non-farm sectors because of the lockdown. This was the first time that farm employment breached the 120 million mark, and it did so by a huge margin. Employment remained high in July at 126 million although it was lower than in June. It is tempting to conjecture that the 4 million fall in farm employment indicates reverse migration. But, there is no data to support such an inference.

The second story that is contrary to the convincing recovery in employment seen by July is the performance of salaried employees. While all kinds of work are equally honorable, jobs have a qualitative pecking order. For example, a regular salaried job is better than an informal arrangement of employment in the unorganised sector. In this context, of all the major types of employment discussed here, it is the salaried employees that is the most preferred.

Only 21 per cent of all employment in India is in the form of a salaried employment. These are more resilient to economic shocks than the employment of say, a daily wage labourer. As a result, job losses among them accounted for only 15 per cent of all job losses in April.

17.7 million salaried jobs were lost in April 2020. An additional 0.1 million jobs were lost in May. Then, 3.9 million jobs were gained in June. But, 5 million jobs were lost in July. On a net basis, the plight of salaried employees has worsened since the lockdown began. In April, they lost 17.7 million jobs. But by July, their losses had swelled to 18.9 million.

While salaried jobs are not lost easily, once lost they are also far more difficult to retrieve. Therefore, their ballooning numbers are a source of worry. Salaried jobs were nearly 19 million short of their average in 2019-20. They were 22 per cent lower than their level in the last fiscal year.

Published first in Business Standard Link

Unemployment Rate (30-DAY MVG. AVG.)
Per cent
7.9 -3.6
Consumer Sentiments Index
Base September-December 2015
53.2 0.0
Consumer Expectations Index
Base September-December 2015
54.8 0.0
Current Economic Conditions Index
Base September-December 2015
50.7 0.0
Quarterly CapEx Aggregates
(Rs.trillion) Mar 20 Jun 20 Sep 20 Dec 20
New projects 3.80 0.83 1.05 0.86
Completed projects 1.76 0.25 0.72 0.49
Stalled projects 0.73 0.11 0.08 0.30
Revived projects 0.42 0.68 0.36 0.08
Implementation stalled projects 10.18 0.09 0.07 0.12
Updated on: 16 Jan 2021 8:28PM
Quarterly Financials of Listed Companies
(% change) Mar 20 Jun 20 Sep 20 Dec 20
All listed Companies
 Income -5.0 -27.6 -6.2 6.7
 Expenses -1.9 -27.9 -10.1 2.7
 Net profit -48.9 -40.2 45.2 26.9
 PAT margin (%) 2.3 5.3 8.3 21.4
 Count of Cos. 4,355 4,347 4,310 64
Non-financial Companies
 Income -9.0 -37.4 -10.4 7.0
 Expenses -4.9 -37.6 -14.0 2.9
 Net profit -50.1 -55.8 29.9 26.9
 PAT margin (%) 3.2 4.5 8.1 21.7
 Net fixed assets 13.3 5.9
 Current assets 3.6 0.8
 Current liabilities 6.2 -2.8
 Borrowings 15.9 8.1
 Reserves & surplus 1.3 4.5
 Count of Cos. 3,239 3,235 3,213 44
Numbers are net of P&E
Updated on: 16 Jan 2021 8:28PM
Annual Financials of All Companies
(% change) FY18 FY19 FY20
All Companies
 Income 8.4 13.5 0.2
 Expenses 9.9 13.8 0.5
 Net profit -41.0 17.9 -11.9
 PAT margin (%) 2.0 2.2 3.9
 Assets 10.9 9.5 9.2
 Net worth 7.4 8.6 4.8
 RONW (%) 3.4 4.0 5.7
 Count of Cos. 29,264 28,548 9,649
Non-financial Companies
 Income 8.6 14.1 -2.6
 Expenses 8.8 14.3 -1.8
 Net profit -9.5 22.0 -23.7
 PAT margin (%) 2.7 3.0 4.1
 Net fixed assets 7.2 5.4 13.0
 Net worth 6.1 8.3 2.1
 RONW (%) 5.6 6.7 7.2
 Debt / Equity (times) 1.0 1.0 0.8
 Interest cover (times) 2.1 2.3 2.6
 Net working capital cycle (days) 77 70 60
 Count of Cos. 23,680 23,061 7,171
Numbers are net of P&E
Updated on: 14 Jan 2021 10:28AM