India's non-earning segment shrinking, 8 states buck trend

Non-workers, broadly those who have no work or are not paid if they do, make up a smaller segment of the national population than they did 10 years earlier. The proportion, however, has gone up in the eight states of Gujarat, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya. Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.

An analysis of census records shows the proportion of non-workers nationwide falling from 60.88 per cent of the population (62.63 crore out of 102.8 crore) in 2001 to 60.20 per cent (72.88 crore out of 121.05 crore) in 2011. The trend suggests that a larger segment of people are now being involved in economically productive activity.

Among states that have bucked the trend, Gujarat has seen its non-workers rise from 2.9 crore to 3.56 crore, figures that translate into 58 and 59 per cent of the respective populations of 2001 and 2011. In Bihar, the non-working population has risen from 66.29 per cent to 66.64.

The highest proportion of non-workers is in Lakshwadeep (70.91 per cent of 45,720) and Uttar Pradesh (67.06 per cent of 19.98 crore).

Broadly, non-workers include students who did not participate in any economic activity during the census period, people attending to daily household chores, and dependants such as infants or very elderly people not included in the category of workers.

Economists are split over why the segment of non-workers is growing in some states but agree it is not a healthy trend for a growing economy.

"It is difficult to say what is causing this trend. However traditionally it has been seen that if a society ages, then its productive population too decreases," economist Ajit Ranade said. "This may not be the case with these states. But it is a worrying trend."

Another theory is that the figures could suggest that these economies are creating opportunities and social infrastructure that, in turn, could be encouraging people who were earlier part of the labour force to study instead.

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