New Delhi : India's robust economy isn't churning out jobs. Uneven growth throws millions into poverty as others become billionaires.

On paper, India has had a banner year. Exports are at record highs. Profits of publicly traded companies have doubled. A vibrant mobile class, built over the past few decades, is now shelling out so much on movie tickets, cars, real estate and vacations that economists call it postpandemic ''revenge spending''.

Yet even as India is projected to have the fastest growth of any major economy this year, the rosy headline figures do not reflect reality for hundreds of millions of Indians. The growth is still not translating into enough jobs for the waves of educated young people who enter the labour force each year.

A far larger number of Indians eke out a living in the informal sector, and they have been battered in recent months by high inflation, especially in food prices.

The disconnect is a result of India's uneven growth, which is powered by the voracious consumption of the country's upper strata but whose benefits often do not extend beyond the urban middle class.

The pandemic has magnified the divide, throwing tens of millions of Indians into extreme poverty while the number of Indian billionaires has surged, according to Oxfam.

The concentration of wealth is in part a product of the growth-at-all costs ambitions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who promised when he was re-elected in 2019 to double the size of the economy by 2024, lifting India into the $5 trillion-or-more club alongside the United States, China and Japan.

The government reported late last month that the economy had expanded 8.7 percent in the past year to $3.3 trillion. But with domestic investment lackluster, and government hiring slowing, India has turned into subsidized fuel, food and housing for its poorest citizens to address the widespread joblessness.

Free grains now reach two-thirds of the country's more than 1.3 billion people.

Those handouts, by some calculations, have pushed inequality in India to its lowest level in decades. Still, critics of the Indian government say that subsidies cannot be used forever to paper over inadequate job creation.

This is especially true as tens of millions of Indians - new college graduates, farmers looking to leave the fields and women taking on work - are expected to seek to flood the nonfarm work force in the coming years.

''There is a historical disconnect in the Indian growth story, where growth essentially happens without a corresponding increase in employment,'' said Mahesh Vyas, the chief executive of the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, a data research firm.

Among job seekers despairing over the lack of opportunities is Sweety Sinha, who lives in Haryana, a northern state where unemployment was a staggering 34.5 percent in April.

As a child Ms. Sinha liked to pretend to be a teacher standing in front of her village classroom with fake eyeglasses and a wooden baton, to fellow students great amusement.

Her ambitions came true years later when she got a job teaching math at a private school. But the coronavirus epidemic upended her dreams, as the Indian economy contracted 7.3 percent in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Within months, she and several teachers were laid off because many students had dropped out.

Ms. Sinha is again in the market for a job. In November she joined thousands of applicants vying for much-coveted work in the government. She has also traveled across Haryana seeking jobs, but turned them down because of the meager pay - less than $400 a month.

''Sometimes, during nights, I really get scared : What if I am not able to get anything?'' she said. ''All of my friends are suffering because of unemployment.''

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks authors Emily Schmall and Sameer Yasir.


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