Can India Tackle Its Population Challenge?

Can India Tackle Its Population Challenge?
Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

What you need to know

Around 22% of the global workforce over the next three decades is expected to come from India. Experts say unemployment in the country will be “a huge problem” if more skilled workers are not trained.

By Murali Krishnan

India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023, according to a report by the United Nations.

India’s population currently stands at 1,412 billion, compared to China’s 1,426 billion, and the South Asian nation is projected to have a population of 1,668 billion by 2050 —  more than China’s projected population of 1,317 billion —  the report said.

More than half of the projected increase in the global population by 2050 is expected to be concentrated in eight countries, which include India.

The U.N. report also stated that India’s total fertility rate (TFR) was expected to decline from the current 2.01 to 1.78 in 2050 and 1.69 in 2100.

Over the years, the leaders of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have pushed for policies on population control. But efforts were relaxed more recently, given that the country’s TFR had declined from 2.2 in 2015-16 to 2.0 in 2019-21.

Economists and health experts say that the country urgently needs to reform its education, economic, and social policies.

“With a bigger population, governments have to support a greater number of people. This means that people’s productivity will have to increase for any given per capita income,” Lekha Chakraborty of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy told DW, stressing the need for better quality education and vocational training.

“If the population transition manifests in a better labor force participation rate, it can positively impact economic growth. However, given widening poverty and inequalities, the public finance implications of a rise in population, in terms of social security measures and health costs, cannot be undermined,” added Chakraborty.

Urgent need for skills development

As of 2011, half of India’s total population is of working age and is expected to remain so over the next two decades. A further 183 million are expected to be added to this age group by 2050.

Loosely translated, a whopping 22% of the global workforce added over the next three decades will come from India.

“Unemployment will be a huge problem if the pace of skills development does not increase proportionately. More people need to be absorbed in industry and this should be given priority in the coming years,” Aparajita Chattopadhyay, a professor at the International Institute for Population Sciences, told DW.

Much of India’s growth over the past few decades has been driven by an expansion of its services sector, which is not as labor-intensive as its manufacturing counterpart.

“The government’s ‘Skill India’ initiative will be an important step in this direction, targeting employability in sectors including information and communications technology (ICT), electronics, and green energy,” said Chattopadhyay.

Youth disproportionately affected by unemployment

According to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, more than 17 million Indians — half of them women — want to work, but are not actively seeking jobs because of the country’s discouraging economic situation.

With education no longer a guarantee of a job, many educated workers complain of a lack of job security and employment benefits, and salaries which often fail to meet minimum wage requirements.

Most of the new jobs that will be created in the future will require highly skilled workers, Chakraborty said, adding that India may not be able to take advantage of the opportunities due to a low human capital base and a lack of skilled workers.

“The burden of joblessness is borne disproportionately by the country’s youth and this is what we need to factor in, in the coming years as population numbers go up,” said Chakraborty.

Aging population to pressure welfare systems

India’s elderly population (aged 60 and above) is also growing in size. It is projected to reach 194 million in 2031 compared to 138 million in 2021, marking a 41% increase over a decade, according to the National Statistical Organization. This is expected to put pressure on social security and public welfare systems.

“Education and public health are so important as we go forward,” Jacob John, a public health expert, told DW. ”Health management is totally lacking in India and that is why there has to be emphasis on this, especially for an aging population in a decade and more. Healthcare can be made equitably accessible to every individual.” John added.

With more people in the labor force and fewer children to support in the coming years, India has a window of opportunity for economic growth, said John — if the right social and economic investments and policies are made in health, education, and governance.

“The big question is, are we willing to invest adequately in this constituency so that we reap rewards later?” he added.

Edited by Sou-Jie van Brunnersum 

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This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle. Read the original article here.

TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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