Distress signal: Share of youngest workers in NREG begins to rise

The steady decline in the proportion of young workers, those between 18 and 30, under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has halted and has begun to rise in the wake of demonetization and the rollout of GST.

There is no clarity on what could be the reason behind this rising trend of the entry-level workforce among MGNREGA workers but experts say this could be a reflection of rural distress and lack of employment opportunities.

An analysis of age-wise data of persons employed in MGNREGA indicates that the share of the workforce in the 18-30 age bracket began moving up after the financial year 2017-18. 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.

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.

“There is a slowdown in the economy. The situation is bleak for young people. They have to sustain their education and find a 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 closely working on MGNREGA.

Government took a decision to demonetise high value currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 in November 2016 while GST was implemented from July 1, 2017. Both these decisions caused disruptions in the economy, which many experts feel contributed to the slowdown. The GDP growth which peaked at 8.2 percent in 2016-17 also came down in subsequent years. The economy grew by 6.8 percent in 2018-19.

Data shows the total number of individuals who worked under MGNREGA has also gone up in recent years. For instance, in 2013-14, 7.95 crores worked under MGNREGA and this number came down to 6.71 crores in 2014-15 but started rising again and reached 7.21 crore in 2015-16, 7.65 crores in 2016-17 and 7.76 crores in 2018-19.

During the current financial year, the total number of persons working under MGNREGA has already reached 5.72 crores up to October 21, 2019.