Why the NSSO Employment Surveys Shouldn't Have Been Done Away With -Sona Mitra
The new periodic labour force surveys, while welcome, will create a situation where there would be no data system to compare the present with the past.
In a recent interview, Prime Minister Narendra Modi apparently said, “more than a lack of jobs, the issue is a lack of data on jobs”.
For those of us who have been using the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data on employment and unemployment for decades now, such a statement comes as a surprise as almost all research on several aspects of Indian labour markets has been based on data provided by the NSSO employment-unemployment surveys (EUS). Even field-based studies use the NSSO-EUS for their background research.
There, of course, exists other sources of data on employment and unemployment, those available from the economic census (establishment surveys) – Census of India, Annual Survey of Industries, the Directorate General of Employment and Training (DGET) – but these suffer from limited coverage and therefore are not representative. The Census of India although provides exhaustive estimates of workers under the broad categories of rural-urban, male-female, main-marginal and a few others once in a decade, it does not provide detailed information like the household surveys.
Unfortunately, in a recent move by the government, the NSSO-EUS has been officially discontinued since the last available figures for the 68th Round (2011-12). It is thus a fact that post-2011-12, we do not have any extensive information on the labour market situation in India.
If we consider the six rounds of annual employment-unemployment surveys conducted by the Labour Bureau under the aegis of the Ministry of Labour and Employment since 2010-11, which have been somewhat similar in size and methodology to the NSSO-EUS from its third round (2013-14), even those have not been continued after 2015-16.
These surveys have been scrapped based on the recommendations of a task force headed by a well-known economist and the former head of NITI Aayog, Arvind Panagariya. The committee pointed out that since the surveys are carried over a period of one year and are made available at a lag of another year, it makes the data lose its relevance and desirability for informing policymaking. The data is then unable to take into cognizance the rapid changes taking place in the economy. It has also been pointed out by the task force that the NSSO-EUS is low-frequency data since it is carried out only once in five years and hence is unable to inform policy at regular intervals. The committee thus recommended developing a data system that would be replacing the existing five-yearly surveys, and would be addressing the issues of representation, periodicity, timeliness and hence improve the reliability and usability of the data. The report of the task force is available here.
In the meantime, due to a lack of statistics on employment and unemployment, several sources are being explored in order to get an idea of the current scenario. One such among them has been a research commissioned by the government whose results are being widely discussed and contested. This study by Ghosh and Ghosh used information based on payroll data which included using the figures from the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation, Employees’ State insurance, State Employment Registers and so on in order to get an idea of the employment situation. The study reportedly claimed an employment generation of seven million jobs in the FY2017-18. These sources of payroll data are entirely based on self-reporting mechanisms and are not survey-based information. It thus fails to provide any adequately reliable information on the current situation.
Researchers, economists and statisticians have already written several newspaper articles identifying the problems of over or underestimation associated with such sources.
In addition, the above-mentioned study has convoluted the overall context of the debate and discourse on the prevailing levels of joblessness in the economy and has led to unfounded conjectures and speculations. Survey-based information whether enterprise based surveys or household surveys, work on the principle of recording and enumeration by trained investigators and are based on detailed questionnaires. Hence they form a much more reliable tool for collecting and disseminating information and thus inform policy. It is in this overall context, that the government needs to be reminded about the importance of the NSSO-EUS, the purpose it served and the opportunity cost to be borne by the economy for an overall scrapping of the surveys.
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TheWire.in, 25 August, 2018, https://thewire.in/economy/why-the-nsso-employment-surveys-shouldnt-have-been-done-away-with