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

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The Periodic Labour Force Survey and the Estimate of the Socio-economic Inequalities

A Critical Examination

A new system of data collection on issues pertaining to labour and employment, called the Periodic Labour Force Survey, replacing the very comprehensive and detailed surveys on the employment and unemployment situation, also known as quinquennial surveys, was introduced in India in 2017. This paper is an attempt to highlight the effects of the modified sampling methods adopted in the PLFS on data outcomes and inconsistencies. Compared to the EUS survey, the determining criteria used in the PLFS for classifying households across various socio-economic strata seem to be irrational, less comprehensive, and technically incorrect. A fundamental change in the basis of sample selection introduced with the PLFS makes it incomparable to the earlier surveys.

The authors are indebted to S K Sasikumar for providing insightful comments and suggestions in improvising the manuscript.


Labour and employment outcomes of the first annual estimates (2017–18) under the system of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) have been striking and contentious. Unlike the past household-level sample surveys on the employment and unemployment situation (EUS) conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), results from the PLFS data indicate a remarkably exacerbating performance of key labour market indicators, such as the labour force participation rates (LFPRs), the workforce participation rates (WPRs), and unemployment rates. So far, four annual rounds have been conducted under the system of the PLFS from 2017–18 to 2020–21. The trends in the labour market recall the concerns of economists and demographers about the potential “unfortunate lost opportunity” as the demographic dividend of India seems to have been not utilised by the policymakers to boost the per capita income growth (Bhalla et al 2017). Broadly, it can be stated that India has witnessed a drastic increase in the unemployment rates and the share of persons of the total working-age (or economically most productive) population, that is aged 18–64, who are “Not in Employment, nor in Education, nor in Training” (NEET) between 2011–12 and 2017–18. Despite rising numbers in the labour force, there has been a substantial decline in the LFPRs and the WPRs, along with a significant surge in the unemployment and NEET rates, particularly in the young age group (18–29). A similar trend was observed between 2004–05 and 2011–12, but in the more recent period, it has been even sharper. The observed trends are starker in rural areas, where the size of the workforce (18–64 age group) dropped by 7 million from 2011–12 to 2017–18, accompanied by a dramatic increase in the unemployment and NEET rates by 3.6 and 7.7. The second annual estimates in 2018–19 also showed nearly similar levels as observed in the first annual estimates during 2017–18 (Table 1, p 36).

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Updated On : 20th Oct, 2022
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