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Many young Indians say they haven't benefited from the economic growth Modi boasts of

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

World leaders arrive in India this weekend to attend the annual gathering of the world's 20 largest economies. In a London newspaper today, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasted about his country's economic growth. But many young Indians say they have not benefited from it. Raksha Kumar reports from Bangalore.

RAKSHA KUMAR, BYLINE: On a recent morning at the outskirts of Bangalore City, about 40 young men wait impatiently at a busy intersection. They are construction workers, carpenters and plumbers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KUMAR: This is the unofficial spot for young job seekers from surrounding villages, kind of an open market for less skilled workers. There are such places outside most cities across the country. Seventeen-year-old Navin Madiga comes here on most days and hopes to be picked up for work. Today he is lucky. An employment agent quickly arrived in a minivan and whisked him away for a day job.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

NAVIN MADIGA: (Non-English language spoken).

KUMAR: As he gets into the minivan, Madiga says he is always looking for construction work. Some days he gets a job, and some days he doesn't. According to official statistics, India's unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing since the COVID pandemic. But many economists say that it is still a major problem for many young Indians like Madiga. In a recent study, the Mumbai-based think tank the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy finds that less than half of those between the ages of 15 and 39 have jobs. Jayati Ghosh, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, shares the same observation.

JAYATI GHOSH: Our employment rate has been falling in a period when we're supposed to be growing, and that's crazy.

KUMAR: Generating high-paying jobs has always been an issue for India's governments. But Ghosh says the current problem was exacerbated in 2016, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly stopped the use of 86% of the country's currency notes. It was then followed by a hastily implemented tax system called the Goods and Services Tax. And the way the government dealt with the pandemic shocked the system further.

GHOSH: The recovery package after COVID was oriented to big business. It wasn't for small and micro enterprises. It wasn't for self-employed people. And within those in business, we've seen even greater concentration. The top hundred companies account for 90% of the corporate profits.

KUMAR: That means the companies are very profitable, but they don't generate much employment, she says. This is despite the fact that India's economy grew at more than 7% last year. For context, the U.S.' growth rate was 2.1%, and China's was 3%. Vibha Attri is a researcher at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi. In a recent study, she and her team spoke to thousands of young Indians.

VIBHA ATTRI: When we questioned the youth about the most pressing issue facing the country, 4 in 10 pointed to unemployment, and poverty and inflation were the second and third major concerns.

KUMAR: The authorities have taken note of the distress call.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Let us turn our attention now to the prime minister's mega job push. Prime Minister Modi is expected to distribute appointment letters to 70,000 young people.

KUMAR: But analysts say this type of government-driven schemes are not enough, and that poses a big problem for Modi. As his government boasts about India's economic potential at this weekend's G20 summit, its unemployment problem may well hold the country back. For NPR News, I'm Raksha Kumar in Bangalore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Raksha Kumar
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