India in Crisis: Unemployment and Hunger Persist After Waves of COVID

India lost 6.8 million salaried jobs and 3.5 million entrepreneurs in November alone. Many among the unemployed can no longer afford to buy food, causing a significant spike in hunger. The country's economy is finding it hard to recover from COVID waves and lockdowns, according to data from multiple sources. At the same time, the Indian government has reported an 8.4% jump in economic growth in the July-to-September period compared with a contraction of 7.4% for the same period a year earlier.  This raises the following questions: Has India had jobless growth? Or its GDP figures are fudged? If the Indian economy fails to deliver for the common man, will Prime Minister Narendra Modi step up his anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric to maintain his popularity among Hindus?

Labor Participation Rate in India. Source: CMIE

Unemployment Crisis:

India lost 6.8 million salaried jobs and its labor participation rate (LPR) slipped from 40.41% to  40.15% in November, 2021, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).  In addition to the loss of salaried jobs, the number of entrepreneurs in India declined by 3.5 million. India's labor participation rate of 40.15% is lower than Pakistan's 48%.   Here's an except of the latest CMIE report:

"India’s LPR is much lower than global levels. According to the World Bank, the modelled ILO estimate for the world in 2020 was 58.6 per cent (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.ZS). The same model places India’s LPR at 46 per cent. India is a large country and its low LPR drags down the world LPR as well. Implicitly, most other countries have a much higher LPR than the world average. According to the World Bank’s modelled ILO estimates, there are only 17 countries worse than India on LPR. Most of these are middle-eastern countries. These are countries such as Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Senegal and Lebanon. Some of these countries are oil-rich and others are unfortunately mired in civil strife. India neither has the privileges of oil-rich countries nor the civil disturbances that could keep the LPR low. Yet, it suffers an LPR that is as low as seen in these countries".

Labor Participation Rates in India and Pakistan. Source: World Bank...

Labor Participation Rates for Selected Nations. Source: World Bank/ILO

Youth  unemployment for ages15-24 in India is 24.9%, the highest in South Asia region. It is 14.8% in Bangladesh 14.8% and 9.2% in Pakistan, according to the International Labor Organization and the World Bank.  

Youth Unemployment in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Source: ILO, WB

In spite of the headline GDP growth figures highlighted by the Indian and world media, the fact is that it has been jobless growth. The labor participation rate (LPR) in India has been falling for more than a decade. The LPR in India has been below Pakistan's for several years, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). 

Even before the COVID19 pandemic, India's labor participation rate was around 43%, lower than its neighbors'. Now it has slipped further to about 40%. Meanwhile, the Indian government has reported an 8.4% jump in economic growth in the July-to-September period compared with a contraction of 7.4% for the same period a year earlier.  This raises the following questions: Has India had jobless growth? Or its GDP figures are fudged?  If the Indian economy fails to deliver for the common man, will Prime Minister Narendra Modi step up his anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric to maintain his popularity among Hindus?
Indian Employment Trends By Sector. Source: CMIE Via Business Standard

Hunger Crisis:
'
India ranks 94th among 107 nations ranked by World Hunger Index in 2020. Other South Asians have fared better: Pakistan (88), Nepal (73), Bangladesh (75), Sri Lanka (64) and Myanmar (78) – and only Afghanistan has fared worse at 99th place. The COVID19 pandemic has worsened India's hunger and malnutrition. Tens of thousands of Indian children were forced to go to sleep on an empty stomach as the daily wage workers lost their livelihood and Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the South Asian nationPakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan opted for "smart lockdown" that reduced the impact on daily wage earners. China, the place where COVID19 virus first emerged, is among 17 countries with the lowest level of hunger. 
World Hunger Rankings 2020. Source: World Hunger Index Report


India Among Worst Hit: 
 
India has a 17.3% child wasting rate, the worst in the South Asia region. Child stunting is also extremely high across South Asia. “Data from 1991 through 2014 for Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan showed that stunting is concentrated among children from households facing multiple forms of deprivation, including poor dietary diversity, low levels of maternal education, and household poverty,” the World Hunger Report said. China, the place where COVID19 virus first emerged, is among 17 countries with the lowest level of hunger. 

Hunger and malnutrition are worsening in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia because of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in low-income communities or those already stricken by continued conflict. 

India has performed particularly poorly because of one of the world's strictest lockdowns imposed by Prime Minister Modi to contain the spread of the virus. 

Hanke Annual Misery Index: 

Pakistanis are less miserable than Indians in the economic sphere, according to the Hanke Annual Misery Index (HAMI) published in early 2021 by Professor Steve Hanke. With India ranked 49th worst and Pakistan ranked 39th worst, both countries find themselves among the most miserable third of the 156 nations ranked. Hanke teaches Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Hanke explains it as follows: "In the economic sphere, misery tends to flow from high inflation, steep borrowing costs, and unemployment. The surefire way to mitigate that misery is through economic growth. All else being equal, happiness tends to blossom when growth is strong, inflation and interest rates are low, and jobs are plentiful". Several key global indices, including misery index, happiness index, hunger index, food affordability index, labor force participation rate,  ILO’s minimum wage data, all show that people in Pakistan are better off than their counterparts in India.   
 

Pakistan's Real GDP: 

Vehicles and home appliance ownership data analyzed by Dr. Jawaid Abdul Ghani of Karachi School of Business Leadership suggests that the officially reported GDP significantly understates Pakistan's actual GDP.  Indeed, many economists believe that Pakistan’s economy is at least double the size that is officially reported in the government's Economic Surveys. The GDP has not been rebased in more than a decade. It was last rebased in 2005-6 while India’s was rebased in 2011 and Bangladesh’s in 2013. Just rebasing the Pakistani economy will result in at least 50% increase in official GDP.  A research paper by economists Ali Kemal and Ahmad Waqar Qasim of PIDE (Pakistan Institute of Development Economics) estimated in 2012 that the Pakistani economy’s size then was around $400 billion. All they did was look at the consumption data to reach their conclusion. They used the data reported in regular PSLM (Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measurements) surveys on actual living standards. They found that a huge chunk of the country's economy is undocumented. 

Pakistan's service sector which contributes more than 50% of the country's GDP is mostly cash-based and least documented. There is a lot of currency in circulation. According to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the currency in circulation has increased to Rs. 7.4 trillion by the end of the financial year 2020-21, up from Rs 6.7 trillion in the last financial year,  a double-digit growth of 10.4% year-on-year.   Currency in circulation (CIC), as percent of M2 money supply and currency-to-deposit ratio, has been increasing over the last few years.  The CIC/M2 ratio is now close to 30%. The average CIC/M2 ratio in FY18-21 was measured at 28%, up from 22% in FY10-15. This 1.2 trillion rupee increase could have generated undocumented GDP of Rs 3.1 trillion at the historic velocity of 2.6, according to a report in The Business Recorder. In comparison to Bangladesh (CIC/M2 at 13%), Pakistan’s cash economy is double the size. Even a casual observer can see that the living standards in Pakistan are higher than those in Bangladesh and India. 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on December 22, 2021 at 10:42am

#India's #Jobs #crisis: urban unemployment at 9.1%, highest in 4 months. 29.3% Haryana tops in #unemployment, followed by #Kashmir 21.4%, #Rajasthan 20.4%, #Bihar 14.8%, Himachal Pradesh 13.6%, Tripura 13.4%, Goa 12.7% & Jharkhand 11.2%. #Modi #economy https://www.dailypioneer.com:443/2021/india/urban-unemployment-9-1-...

The urban unemployment rate stood at 9.1 per cent as on December 18 which is the highest since August. The all India unemployment rate recorded 7.6 per cent as on December 17 which is also high as compared to 7 per cent in November. The rural unemployment rate stood at 6.9 per cent as compared to 6.44 per cent in November. Unemployment is going to be a major poll issue in the upcoming assembly polls in five states.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), which tracks the labour market with proprietary tools, showed that with 29.3 per cent Haryana is in the top among the states and union territories in unemployment, followed by Jammu and Kashmir with 21.4 per cent and Rajasthan with 20.4 per cent. Bihar ( 14.8 per cent), Himachal Pradesh ( 13.6 per cent), Tripura ( 13.4 per cent), Goa ( 12.7 per cent) and Jharkhand ( 11.2 per cent) are among those states having double digit unemployment in December. The unemployment rate in Delhi is recorded at 9.3 per cent.

The data showed the unemployment rate declined from 7.8 per cent in October to 7 per cent in November; the employment rate rose by a whisker from 37.28 per cent to 37.34 per cent. This translated into employment increasing by 1.4 million, from 400.8 million to 402.1 million in November 2021.

India's unemployment rate at the national level stood at 7.75 per cent in October, 6.86 per cent in September, 8.32 per cent in August, 6.96 per cent in July, 9.17 per cent in June and 11.84 per cent in May. The Urban unemployment rate stood at 7.38 per cent in October, 8.62 per cent in September, 9.78 per cent in August, 8.32 per cent in July, 10.08 per cent in June and 14.72 per cent in May. The rural unemployment rate stood at 7.91 per cent in October, 6.06 per cent in September, 7.64 per cent in August, 6.34 per cent in July, 8.75 per cent in June and 10.55 per cent in May.

According to the CMIE, the data in November showed the labour participation rate (LPR) has slipped. It fell from 40.41 per cent in October to 40.15 per cent in November. This is the second consecutive month of a fall in the LPR. Cumulatively, the LPR has fallen by 0.51 percentage points over October and November 2021. This makes it a significant fall in the LPR compared to average changes seen in other months if we exclude the months of economic shock such as the lockdown.

As per the CMIE, the creation of additional jobs pushed up India’s employment rate to 37.87% in September as compared to 37.15% in August. Further, the employment rate in rural India jumped by 0.85 percentage points to 39.53% in September as against 38.68% in August while that in urban India grew to 34.62% compared with 34.15% in August. Of the 8.5 million additional people employed in September, 6.5 million or 76.5% of the total employment generation was in rural India,” CMIE stated in its weekly labour market analysis early this month.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 23, 2021 at 7:59am

World #Inequality report 2022 says #India is one of the world' most unequal countries, with rising #poverty & an affluent elite. Govt policies have had a negative impact on the #poor while making the #rich even richer. #Modi #BJP #Islamophobia #Hindutva https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/12/23/1065267029/a-c...

If growth had been distributed more equally since the 1990s, there would be less poverty today and more middle-class families, says Chancel. In order to generate prosperity for the bottom 50% of the population, public investments are key — equal access to basic services such as quality education, transport and health, says Chancel. "This is still lacking in India."


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According to the World Food Program, a quarter of the world's undernourished people live in India. And despite steady economic growth and per capita income having tripled in recent years, the WFP notes that minimum dietary intake fell.
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It's almost as if there are two countries in India: a very small, very rich country (the country of prosperous Indian urban centers) and a very large, poor country, says Lucas Chancel, lead author of the report and co-director of the World Inequality Lab. "For a long time, it has been said that the richer the rich part of the country, the better for the rest," he says.


The coconut seller Pachavarnam hasn't felt that, though. And experts like Chancel acknowledge that this is an outlook that's left many families vulnerable.

A coconut vendor says she's 'terrified of the future'
Panchavarnam, who goes by one name, has sold tender coconuts on the streets of Madurai for the last 40 years and remembers a time when the bustling residential neighborhood where she now sells her wares used to be a forest. Today, it's filled with signs of development. There's a highway close by. Busy streets brim over with traffic. In the last decade, apartment complexes, department stores and schools have sprung up around her.

For the 50-year-old, however, little has changed.

She still works 12 hours a day. It's a job she's been doing since the age of 9 helping her dad. That's when she first learned how to hold a sickle to slice into the thick, fibrous coconut. She and her husband begin their workday at 5 a.m., when she buys the coconuts from a wholesale market to fill their rented cart.

She may sell her coconuts at a higher price than she did ten years ago, but her family's daily living expenses and rental for her cart have increased too. Inflation has skyrocketed. But even though her profit may be wafer thin, she's grateful she can at least work.

"During the lockdown, we suffered a lot," she says. "It struck me then how little we had saved. For the first time, I was terrified of the future. What would happen to me and my family if we could no longer work?"

Panchavarnam is one of India's many informal workers, an estimated 485 million people — which according to a 2014 survey by the government of India's Labour Bureau is roughly 50% of the national workforce. Some reports estimate that their numbers are far higher — almost 80% of the workforce. While Panchavarnam is self-employed, other informal workers are hired by companies. But their situation isn't necessarily any easier.

A female construction worker's dusty burden
Selvi, 37, is a construction worker in Chennai, a city in Southern India, who earns Rs 350 ($4.60) a day, carrying heavy loads of cement, bricks and gravel. She winds a thick cloth turban style over her head and places her loads directly on it.


https://wir2022.wid.world/www-site/uploads/2021/12/Summary_WorldIne...

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 24, 2021 at 7:09pm

India’s Stalled Rise
How the State Has Stifled Growth
By Arvind Subramanian and Josh Felman
January/February 2022

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/india/2021-12-14/indias-sta...


As growth slowed, other indicators of social and economic progress deteriorated. Continuing a long-term decline, female participation in the labor force reached its lowest level since Indian independence in 1948. The country’s already small manufacturing sector shrank to just 13 percent of overall GDP. After decades of improvement, progress on child health goals, such as reducing stunting, diarrhea, and acute respiratory illnesses, stalled.

And then came COVID-19, bringing with it extraordinary economic and human devastation. As the pandemic spread in 2020, the economy withered, shrinking by more than seven percent, the worst performance among major developing countries. Reversing a long-term downward trend, poverty increased substantially. And although large enterprises weathered the shock, small and medium-sized businesses were ravaged, adding to difficulties they already faced following the government’s 2016 demonetization, when 86 percent of the currency was declared invalid overnight, and the 2017 introduction of a complex goods and services tax, or GST, a value-added tax that has hit smaller companies especially hard. Perhaps the most telling statistic, for an economy with an aspiring, upwardly mobile middle class, came from the automobile industry: the number of cars sold in 2020 was the same as in 2012.

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Adding to a decade of stagnation, the ravages of COVID-19 have had a severe effect on Indians’ economic outlook. In June 2021, the central bank’s consumer confidence index fell to a record low, with 75 percent of those surveyed saying they believed that economic conditions had deteriorated, the worst assessment in the history of the survey.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 24, 2021 at 8:44pm

India’s Stalled Rise
How the State Has Stifled Growth
By Arvind Subramanian and Josh Felman
January/February 2022

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/india/2021-12-14/indias-sta...



For the Indian economy to achieve its potential, however, the government will need a sweeping new approach to policy—a reboot of the country’s software. Its industrial policy must be reoriented toward lower trade barriers and greater integration into global supply chains. The national champions strategy should be abandoned in favor of an approach that treats all firms equally. Above all, the policymaking process itself needs to be improved, so that the government can establish and maintain a stable economic environment in which manufacturing and exports can flourish.

But there is little indication that any of this will occur. More likely, as India continues to make steady improvements in its hardware—its physical and digital infrastructure, its New Welfarism—it will be held back by the defects in its software. And the software is likely to prove decisive. Unless the government can fundamentally improve its economic management and instill confidence in its policymaking process, domestic entrepreneurs and foreign firms will be reluctant to make the bold investments necessary to alter the country’s economic course.

There are further risks. The government’s growing recourse to majoritarian and illiberal policies could affect social stability and peace, as well as the integrity of institutions such as the judiciary, the media, and regulatory agencies. By undermining democratic norms and practices, such tendencies could have economic costs, too, eroding the trust of citizens and investors in the government and creating new tensions between the federal administration and the states. And India’s security challenges on both its eastern and its western border have been dramatically heightened by China’s expansionist activity in the Himalayas and the takeover of Afghanistan by the Pakistani-supported Taliban.

If these dynamics come to dominate, the Indian economy could experience another disappointing decade. Of course, there would still be modest growth, with some sectors and some segments of the population doing particularly well. But a broader boom that transforms and improves the lives of millions of Indians and convinces the world that India is back would be out of reach. In that case, the current government’s aspirations to global economic leadership may prove as elusive as those of its predecessors.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 25, 2021 at 1:20pm

Manufacturing employment nearly half of what it was five years ago
Manufacturing accounts for nearly 17% of India's GDP, but the sector has seen employment decline sharply in last 5 years - from employing 51 million Indians in 2016-17 to reach 27.3 million in 2020-21

https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/ceda-cmie-...


With the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic battering India at present, the Indian economic outlook looks bleak for the second year in a row. In 2020-21, India’s real GDP growth is estimated to be minus 8 per cent. This would also put pressure on India’s employment numbers. In previous bulletins, we have analysed the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on employment, individual and household incomes and expenditures in 2020.

In this CEDA-CMIE Bulletin, we try to take a longer-term view of sector-wise employment in India. We base this on CMIE’s monthly time-series of employment by industry going back to the year 2016. For this bulletin, we have focused on seven sectors – agriculture, mines, manufacturing, real estate and construction, financial services, non-financial services, and public administrative services. These sectors make up for 99 per cent of total employment in the country.

In figure 2 and 3 (below), we look at four sectors. These are agriculture, financial services, non-financial services, and public administrative services. Non-financial services exclude public administrative services and defense services. Together, these accounted for 69 per cent of total employment in 2016-17 and 78 per cent in 2020-21.

The agriculture sector employed 145.6 million people in 2016-17. This increased by 4 per cent to reach 151.8 million in 2020-21. While it constituted 36 per cent of all employment in 2016-17, the figure rose to 40 per cent in 2020-21, underlining the sector’s importance for the Indian economy. Employment in agriculture has been on the rise over the last two years with year-on-year (YoY) growth rates of 1.7 per cent in 2019-20 and 4.1 per cent in 2020-21.

119.7 million Indians were employed in the non-financial services in 2016-17 (excluding those in public administrative services and defense services) (Figure 3). This number rose by 6.7 per cent to reach 127.7 million in 2020-21. The financial services sector employed 5.3 million people in 2016-17 and this grew by 9 per cent to 5.8 million in 2020-21.

Public administrative services employed 9.8 million people in 2016-17 but it decreased by 19 per cent to 7.9 million in 2020-21.

In figure 4, we look at employment in manufacturing, real estate & construction, and mining sectors. Together these sectors accounted for 30 per cent of all employment in 2016-17 which came down to 21 per cent in 2020-21.

Manufacturing accounts for nearly 17 per cent of India’s GDP but the sector has seen employment decline sharply in the last 5 years. From employing 51 million Indians in 2016-17, employment in the sector declined by 46 per cent to reach 27.3 million in 2020-21. This indicates the severity of the employment crisis in India predating the pandemic.

On a YoY basis, it employed 32 per cent fewer people in 2020-21 over 2019-20. It had seen a growth of 1 per cent (YoY) in 2019-20. This has happened despite the Indian government’s push to improve manufacturing in the country with the ‘Make in India’ project. Under the project, India sought to create an additional 100 million manufacturing jobs in India by 2022 and to increase manufacturing’s contribution to GDP to 20 per cent by 2025.

Instead of increasing employment in the sector, we have seen a sharp decline over the last 5 years. When we look closely at industries that make the manufacturing sector, we find that this is a secular decline in employment across all sub-sectors, except chemical industries.

All sub-sectors within manufacturing registered a longer-term decline.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 25, 2021 at 8:31pm

Riaz Haq has left a new comment on your post "India in Crisis: Unemployment and Hunger Persist After Waves of COVID":

Kaushik Basu
@kaushikcbasu
Latest cross-country labor force participation data. How did India get here? It has some of the world's best entrepreneurs, talented administrators & skilled workers. It is important not to be in data denial. Policy needs to be corrected & re-directed to the commoner's welfare.

https://twitter.com/kaushikcbasu/status/1474938472867766280?s=20



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Labor Force Participation Rates:


India 46%

Pakistan 50%

Bangladesh 56%


https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/sl.tlf.cact.zs

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 26, 2021 at 2:28pm

India has spent a decade wasting the potential of its young #population. Once considered a formidable asset, #India’s #demographic bulge turned toxic due to the country’s lost economic decade! #unemployment #Modi #BJP #Hindutva https://qz.com/india/2104191/india-has-wasted-the-potential-of-its-...


For the better part of the past decade, India was touted as the next big economic growth story after China because of its relatively younger population. “Demographic dividend”—the potential resulting from a country’s working-age population being larger than its non-working-age population—was the key phrase.

Come 2022, the median age in India will be 28, well below 37 in China and the US.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 27, 2021 at 9:45am

The NMP is hardly the panacea for growth in India


https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-nmp-is-hardly-the-panace...


As the Government has also shown, there are out-of-the-box policy initiatives to revamp public sector businesses

The National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) envisages an aggregate monetisation potential of ₹6-lakh crore through the leasing of core assets of the Central government in sectors such as roads, railways, power, oil and gas pipelines, telecom, civil aviation, shipping ports and waterways, mining, food and public distribution, coal, housing and urban affairs, and stadiums and sports complexes, to name some sectors, over a four-year period (FY2022 to FY2025). But the point is that it only underscores the need for policy makers to investigate the key reasons and processes which led to once profit-making public sector assets becoming inefficient and sick businesses.

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Congress leader Sachin Pilot on Wednesday slammed the Central government over National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) by saying that the new scheme will create monopoly and duopoly in the economy.

https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/nmp-will-...


Addressing a press conference in Bengaluru, Pilot questioned the government's decision to "lease core strategic assets of the country to private entities".


"The government said that NMP will get revenue of Rs 6 lakh crores for the next four years. The money that they will raise, will it go to fulfil the Rs 5.5 lakh crores deficit that we are running today or is it there to boost revenue," he stated.

"There is already a problem of unemployment in our country. When private entities take over the assets like railways, telecom and aviation, they will certainly lay off more people to make profits, which means more unemployment," he added.

Pilot further said that handing over important assets of the country to a handful of people will create a monopoly and duopoly in the economy.

The Congress MLA asserted that the NMP poses serious questions on the country's integrity and security. "I want to ask what stops the international funds to make an investment and take a stake in these important assets," he stated.

"There are many countries that forbid Chinese entities to bid for telecom tower or fibre optical cable. I want to question the government what safeguards have been placed in NMP to stop inappropriate entities from bidding for our core strategic assets," he added.

Pilot called the government's decision regarding NMP as 'unilateral' that happened without any discussion with trade unions, stakeholders or the Opposition. He further questioned the transparency of the whole process and how it is going to benefit people.

"Will the money raised be used to double farmers' income or to give Rs 15 lakhs to every Indian citizen as promised by the government? Or will it be used to make a building complex or in some vanity project," he questioned.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 27, 2021 at 2:30pm

By Abhijit Banerjee, Nobel Laureate Economist


https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/23/opinion/culture/holiday-feasting...

There’s a long tradition among social thinkers and policymakers of treating workers as walking, talking machines that turn calories into work and work into commodities that get sold on the market. Under capitalism, food is important because it provides fuel to the work force. In this line of thinking, enjoyment of food is at best a distraction and often a dangerous invitation to indolence.

The scolding American lawmakers who want to forbid the use of food stamps to purchase junk food are part of a long lineage that goes back to the Victorian workhouses, which made sure that the food was never inviting enough to encourage sloth. It is the continuing obsession with treating working-class people as efficient machines for turning nutrients into output that explains why so many governments insist on giving bags of grain to the poor instead of money that they might waste. This infantilizes the poor and, except in very special circumstances, it does nothing to improve nutrition.

The pleasure of eating, to say nothing of cooking, has no place in this narrative. And the idea that if working people knew what was good for them, they’d simply seek out more food as fuel is a woefully limited view of the eating experience of most of the world. As anybody who has been poor or has spent time with poor people knows, eating something special is a source of great excitement.

As it is for everyone. Standing at the end of this very dark and disappointing year, almost two years into a pandemic, we all need the joy of a feast — whether actual or metaphorical.


Every village has its feast days and its special festal foods. Somewhere goats will be slaughtered, somewhere ceremonial coconuts cracked. Perhaps fresh dates will be piled on special plates that come out once a year. Maybe mothers will pop sweetened balls of rice into the mouths of their children.

Friends and relatives will come over to help roast an entire camel for Eid; to share scoops of feijoada, that wonderful Brazilian stew of beans simmered with off-cuts, from pig’s ears to cow’s tongue; to pinch the dumplings for the Lunar New Year; to fold the delicate edges of sweet coconut-stuffed Maharashtrian karanji, to be fried under the watchful eye of the matriarch. The feast’s inspiration might be religious, but it could as well be a wedding, a birth, a funeral or a harvest.

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This feasting season, that momentary joy is likely to feel especially essential. Most of us have had reasons to worry — about ourselves, about our children and parents, about where the world is headed. This year many lost friends and relatives, jobs and businesses. Many spent months working in Zoom-land, languishing even as they counted themselves lucky to be employed.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 28, 2021 at 7:20am

#India's #economy growing fast but problems remain: November inflation 14.23%. #Fuel and #energy prices rose nearly 40% last month. Urban #unemployment – most of the better-paying jobs are in cities – has been moving up since September and is now above 9%. https://aje.io/ytyan4

That will not be easy, say experts. The pandemic has devastated India’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which contribute 30 percent of the nation’s GDP as well as half of the country’s exports and represent 95 percent of its manufacturing units.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Parliament in December that a survey it had conducted suggested that 9 percent of all MSMEs had shut down because of COVID-19. And that might be just the tip of the iceberg. In May, another survey of more than 6,000 MSMEs and startups found that 59 percent were planning to shut shop, scale down or sell before the end of 2021.


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Baldev Kumar threw his head back and laughed at the mention of India’s resurgent GDP growth. The country’s economy clocked an 8.4-percent uptick between July and September compared with the same period last year. India’s Home Minister Amit Shah has boasted that the country might emerge as the world’s fastest-growing economy in 2022.

Kumar could not care less.

As far as he was concerned, the crumpled receipt in his hand told a different story: The tomatoes, onions and okra he had just bought cost nearly twice as much as they did in early November. The 47-year-old mechanic had lost his job at the start of the pandemic. The auto parts store he then joined shut shop earlier this year. Now working at a car showroom in the Bengaluru neighbourhood of Domlur, he is worried he might soon be laid off as auto sales remain low across India.

He has put plans for his daughter’s wedding on hold, unsure whether he can foot the bill. He used to take a bus to work. Now he walks the five-kilometre (three-mile) distance to save a few rupees. “I don’t know which India that’s in,” he said, referring to the GDP figures. “The India I live in is struggling.”

Kumar wasn’t exaggerating – even if Shah’s prognosis turns out to be correct.

Asia’s third-largest economy is indeed growing again, and faster than most major nations. Its stock market indices, such as the Sensex and Nifty, are at levels that are significantly higher than at the start of 2021 – despite a stumble in recent weeks. But many economists are warning that these indicators, while welcome, mask a worrying challenge – some describe it as a crisis – that India confronts as it enters 2022.

November saw inflation rise by 14.23 percent, building on a pattern of double-digit increases that have hit India for several months now. Fuel and energy prices rose nearly 40 percent last month. Urban unemployment – most of the better-paying jobs are in cities – has been moving up since September and is now above 9 percent, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, an independent think-tank. “Inflation hits the poor the most,” said Jayati Ghosh, a leading development economist at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

All of this is impacting demand: Government data shows that private consumption between April and September of 2021 was 7.7 percent lower than in 2019-2020. The economic recovery from the pandemic has so far been driven by demand from well-to-do sections of Indian society, said Sabyasachi Kar, who holds the RBI Chair at the Institute of Economic Growth. “The real challenge will start in 2022,” he told Al Jazeera. “We’ll need demand from poorer sections of society to also pick up in order to sustain growth.”

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