ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Loss of Job, Work, and Income in the Time of COVID-19

An Analysis of PLFS Data

The authors would like to thank G Raveendran and Gerry Rodgers for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.

The counter-intuitive nature of the results of the Periodic Labour Force Survey 201920 is unravelled by arguing that in a situation of exogeneous shock, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the poor and vulnerable working people will be forced to engage in some kind of economic activity for sustaining their livelihood during a year, if not instantly. This then becomes the rationale to examine the impact on employment in terms of wage work and self-employment. In addition, a distinction is made between job loss (change in the workforce) and work loss (employed but not at work for reasons other than sickness).

The summary results of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 201920 came as a surprise to the general public as well as to economists since it reported an increase in the work participation rate (WPR) and a decline in the unemployment rate, which is measured as a proportion of those in the labour force (workers plus those seeking work). Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic appeared in the country only in the beginning of 2020, and hence, the two quarters covered by the PLFS (June to December 2019) could be described as a normal time. Scholars working on the labour force data have already pointed out that the seemingly surprising results could be due to the very broad nature of the definition of employment and unemployment in India based on the usual status (Kapoor 2021; Mehrotra 2021). Under the usual principal status, all those in the labour force with work during the major period of the labour force in the previous 365 days are classified as workers. In effect, this includes those who were not employed for various periods of time not exceeding the majority of days. For situations facing exogeneous shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the more appropriate measure would be the one using the weekly activity status of the persons, which is known as the current weekly status (CWS). Therefore, we adopt this approach in this article for a more appropriate understanding of the labour force data and its interpretation in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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