Something is rotten in the state of our job market
The rise in the number of unemployed people by 2.70 lakh within a span of one quarter is alarming. In December 2022, the number of total unemployed people stood at 23.2 lakh, according to the quarterly data from the Labour Force Survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). That has now gone up to 25.9 lakh – increasing the unemployment rate to 3.51 percent from 3.2 percent back in December, according to official data which, many economists argue is a deflated number, compared to the real rate of unemployment in Bangladesh to begin with.
The total number of people employed in the country now stands at 7.11 crore. Among them, 3.19 crore are employed in the agriculture sector, 1.22 crore in the industrial sector, and 2.69 crore in the service sector. According to the state minister for planning, much of the decline in the number of employed in the last quarter came down to seasonal factors. The period between January-March is usually a lean one for the agriculture sector, which is what has driven the rise in the number of unemployed people. Thus, the state minister said that the increase should not cause an alarm. While that may be true in one sense, if seen from a broader perspective, it should still be a cause for concern.
As evident from the numbers, agriculture continues to be our chief source of employment. In 2016-17, the sector accounted for 40.6 percent of employment, which increased to 45.33 percent in 2022. During this period, the share of manufacturing jobs declined from 20.4 percent to 17.02 percent, which raises a number of questions about the nature of our economic development. As an economy develops, traditionally, more and more people tend to move out of the agriculture sector and join the manufacturing sector. In the next stage of transformation, workers move out of manufacturing to join the service sector. The fact that such transitions are not happening in Bangladesh is puzzling – and not a good sign.
In 2022, the total number of people employed in the manufacturing sector stood at 1.21 crore, down from 1.24 crore in 2016-17. During that same period, industry and manufacturing in particular was the fastest growing sector in the country. The fact that production in the sector grew at nearly double-digits, while the number of employed decreased does not make any sense – especially since automation has not happened to an extent that could fully explain the decline.
When there are no other employment opportunities, people tend to go back to doing agricultural work such as farming. And while there is no doubt that we need people to work in this sector, the fact that employment in other sectors of the economy is stagnating brings into question the quality of our economic growth.
This once again brings to fore the issue of whether Bangladesh is experiencing jobless growth, and why that might be. Clearly, these are issues that need thorough investigation. Without creating more quality and sustainable jobs for our people, what is the point of economic growth? The government needs to rethink its economic and developmental models so that they align with the aspirations of our people and provide them with better opportunities.