The Smartphone and Job Creation
In the summer of 2015, the government of Uttar Pradesh began putting out advertisements looking for “peons”—the local term for low-ranking office helpers. UP, as the state is known, is home to more than 200 million Indians, packed into an area about the size of Texas (which has one-seventh as many inhabitants). Fittingly, UP needed a small army of new peons: in all, 368 jobs were posted. A very strange thing happened next. Applications poured in. After a painstaking survey that took weeks, 2.3 million résumés were counted. There were 6,250 candidates for each available position. Some of the applicants had doctorates. While peon jobs are stable—even respectable—they are by no means glamorous. Peons are usually the first people one sees at Indian government offices, dressed in shabby, faded khaki uniforms; their work involves tracking down dusty files, fetching tea, and ushering in guests. Salaries range from just $150 to $250 a month. The question is why these low-skill, low-paying jobs were in such high demand. There are several possible explanations. First, $250 a month may sound like a pittance, but it is not insignificant: it amounts to nearly double the median national salary. Second, peons are influential gatekeepers in Indian bureaucracy. If you need to see a local officer, a small bribe can go a long way. But workplace corruption is hardly something young, idealistic Indians aspire to (let alone the ones with doctorates). Something deeper was going on. A third possibility is that India simply isn’t creating enough jobs. A 2016 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed that India’s working-age population expanded by 300 million between 1991 and 2013. But during those same twenty-two years, the UNDP says, the economy created just 140 million new jobs. Put another way, 160 million working-age Indians were without formal employment. Job creation is the number one headache for India’s policymakers. By some estimates, India needs to create a million new jobs every month simply to keep pace with the gush of new entrants to the workforce. There is little evidence that India has a plan to meet this demand.
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