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

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Wages in the Shadow of Welfare

City of Shadows: Slums and Informal Work in Bangalore by S RoyChowdhury, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021; pp 231, 895 (hardcover).

Most discussions on urban poverty get quickly framed as issues of urban governance or infrastructure delivery to the poor, like housing, water, sanitation, and healthcare while sidestepping the core issue of wages. City of Shadows: Slums and Informal Work in Bangalore gets to the crux of the issue of wages as driving urban poverty—that the urban poor who find work in the informal economy find jobs that are irregular and get paid less than the minimum wage. In cases where they are paid just about the bare minimum wages, it may be less than the living wages given the cost of living in cities and unregulated working conditions that may be hazardous to their health. Consequently, the conceptual framework of the book looks at persistent urban poverty through the informality of work lens and the resulting poverty of wages.

In doing so, the author makes three critical arguments that provide insights into the nature of urban poverty. First, as against the mainstream theory put forward by international policy agencies that view urban poverty as a spillover of migration by the rural poor to urban spaces (p 42), the author develops the concepts of “new” and “old” slums to show that upward mobility among the urban poor workers is stagnant; workers are simply not able to make the intergenerational leap into the middle class. Second, by deepening the earlier theories of how informality is very much a part of the capitalist system, the author shows how the state has been an active colla­borator in perpetuating informality by instituting it within the structure of the state labour policy. Finally, the author maps the shift in the Indian welfare state that sees social insurance as decoupled from employment and has thus moved policy away from addressing the issue of employment and labour.

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Updated On : 26th Feb, 2022
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