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India’s Great Jobs Challenge

India’s recent economic growth suggests immense potential that has gone largely untapped. But achieving genuine prosperity will be difficult without far-reaching reforms aimed at creating high-quality employment opportunities and guaranteeing living wages for a young population.

NEW DELHI – India seems to be everyone’s favorite growth story nowadays. Despite valid concerns about the accuracy of official statistics, the Indian economy is projected to expand by 6.3% in 2024 – an undeniably remarkable feat given that its GDP exceeds $4.1 trillion. While it remains a lower-middle-income country with a per capita income under $3,000 (at market exchange rates), India’s rapid growth suggests that its economic potential may be greater than expected.

But any optimism about India’s economic prospects must be tempered by its inability to address two related challenges. The first is the unequal distribution of the benefits of rapid economic growth, which have accrued predominantly to the top 10-20% of income earners.

India’s failure to release any consumption figures since 2011-12 has made it difficult to produce reliable estimates of potential increases in inequality and poverty. Such estimates rely heavily on consumer expenditure surveys, typically conducted every five years. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government scrapped the 2017-18 survey because the findings did not align with its preferred narrative. The government has refused to conduct subsequent surveys, even though up-to-date data are vital for informed policymaking.