CPHS showed that the unemployment rate shot up sharply immediately upon the imposition of a nationwide lockdown. In the week ended 29 March 2020, the unemployment rate catapulted to 23.8%. It had averaged at 7.6% in the preceding two weeks but it was volatile—ranging from 6.7% to 8.4%. This volatility reflects the various partial lockdowns imposed by state governments during March 2020. Nevertheless, compared to these levels, 23.8% was an entirely new order of magnitude. The rate persisted at 23.4% in the week ended 5 April and then inched up to 24% in the week of 12 April. Then, it shot up to 26.2% in the week of 19 April.
There was some confusion of the lockdown being relaxed selectively from 20 April. This was again reflected in volatility in the unemployment rate. The rate which had risen to 26.2% in the week ended 19 April fell to 21.1% in the week ended 26 April and then escalated again very sharply to 27.1% in the week ended 3 May.
The unemployment rate rose during those weeks of April even as the labour participation rate was falling sharply. This fell from 42.6% in the week ended 22 March to 39.2% in the week ended 29 March. It then fell to 36.1%, 35.5% and 35.4% in the following weeks.
CMIE releases these weekly labour market metrics estimates publicly immediately upon the completion of the week. Data for a week ended on a Sunday is released in the wee hours of the very next day. The impact of the lockdown was therefore revealed in near real time by the data generated from CPHS every Monday morning. More detailed data is released in the early hours of the first of every month. The data for April 2020 was therefore released on 1 May 2020.
The unemployment rate in April 2020 turned out to be 23.5%. This was much higher than the 8.8% unemployment rate in March 2020 and even higher than the 7.6% recorded in fiscal 2019–20.
The labour participation rate fell from 41.9% in March 2020 to 35.6% in April 2020. The immediate shock of the lockdown was, therefore, a double whammy of a sharp fall in the labour participation rate and a simultaneous sharp increase in the unemployment rate. The result was a correspondingly steep fall in the employment rate, which is the ratio of employed person to the total population of 15 years of age or more. This fell from 38.2% in March 2020 to 27.2% in April 2020.
In May 2020, the unemployment rate remained elevated at 23.5%. But, the labour participation rate improved a tad to 38.2%. This led to an improvement in the employment rate which now scaled up to 29.2%.
The labour participation rate had bottomed out in the last week of April and was rising steadily in May. It climbed up from 35.6% in the week ended 26 April to 38.8% by the week ended 17 May and then stayed around that level till the end of the month. The return of labour to the labour markets as seen in this steady rise of the labour participation rate was a strong positive sign. Sure enough, by the last week of May, even the unemployment rate came down to 20.2%.
So, while the May 2020 unemployment rate was the same as in April 2020, the steady increase in the labour participation rate and then the fall in unemployment in the last week May were indications that things were improving in May. This was eventually borne out by several other indicators such as a 56% increase in year-on-year comparison of MGNREGS person-days. The 8-core index reversed from its sharp fall in April with a 30% increase in May over April.
The improvement in labour conditions seen during May strengthened in the early weeks of June and then showed some fatigue towards the end of the month. The labour participation rate continued to rise, and the unemployment rate continued to fall till the week ended June 2020. The weekly LPR reached 42%, and the weekly UER reached fell sharply to 8.5% by then. Monthly LPR in June was 40.3% and UER was 11%. Weekly trends suggested that the worst was over. This again ties well with official data that showed a doubling of MGNREGS employment and also of Kharif sowing in June 2020 compared to a year ago.
By July 2020, the UER at 7.4% had repaired with the pre-lockdown levels. But, while the LPR has also recovered, at 40.7%, it was still far below the 42% or more levels before the lockdown.