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Rural Poverty, Employment and Disability

PHILADELPHIA and NEW DELHI, Mar 11 2020 (IPS) - About 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning. Disability is part of the human condition, and almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, and those who survive into old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning. Here the focus is on empirical validation of whether disabilities are associated with economic hardships through loss of employment and consequently impoverishment in rural India. The motivation stems from continuing neglect of health in the budgetary allocations –including the allocations for 2020-21.

Vani S. Kulkarni

For lack of more recent data-the NSS does not cover disabilities- we use the two rounds of the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) panel data for 2005 and 2012. An intuitive methodology is used to overcome reverse causality between poverty and disability by comparing poverty outcomes in 2012 and prevalence of disability in 2005. Priority in time of the latter allows us to make unambiguous comparisons between poverty and disability in rural India. The sequence of empirical analyses summarised below is: (i) factors associated with disability; (ii) relationship between rural employment and disability; and (iii) between poverty/or a welfare metric and disability in rural India. The central argument resting on these building blocks is that disabilities are likely to rise; they are associated with loss of long duration employment; and thus with rise in poverty.

The prevaence of dsability is 9.70 % in the rural population in 2012. Of the disabled, more than half (51.3 %) suffer from 2-4 disabilities. Persistence is also largest in this range of disabilities (about 31 % remain in it between 2005-2012).

Shares of those suffering from 1 disability are largest in the age-group 31-50 years, followed by 51-60 years. In the case of 2-4 disabilities, the largest share is found among those 31-50 years old, 51-60 years old and then among the older group,61-70 years. Shares of those suffering from >4 disabilities rise from those 31-50 years old to 61-70 years and then decline. Within the youngest (15-30 years), about 98 % do not suffer from any disability which declines among older age-groups (just under 50 % among the oldest >70 years). In the older age-group (31-50 years), a vast majority do not suffer from any disability, and small proportions suffer from a single and multiple disabilities. A similar pattern is observed among those in the age-group, 51-60 years, with substantially lower proportions without any disability and larger proportions suffering from single and multiple disabilities. Among the older, 61-70 years, the proportion without disability is considerably lower, but those with single and multiple disabilities rise,with about 30 % suffering from >4 disabilities. As aging grows rapidly, the burden of disabilities is likely to surge. But at the same time, high prevalence of disability among a large segment of the working age group is likely to have deleterious employment effects.

Employment in rural areas is disaggregated into four categories: no employment, <240 hours in the previous year (ie, previous to 2012), part time employment >240 hours, and full time employment (at least 250 days and at least 2000 hours).

Raghav Gaiha

As those suffering from disabilities are a small fraction of the rural population, it is not surprising that in each duration of employment the share of those not suffering from any disability is markedly higher than that of the disabled. Specifically, their shares are higher in short and longer duration of employment while those of the disabled mere fractions. What is indeed striking is that among the disabled, the proportion of not employed is just under half, and markedly lower in part-time and full –time employment.

Instead of using a poverty cut-off (the World Bank uses several), we have used terciles of per capita expenditure (at constant prices). The bottom tercile denotes extremely poor, the next middle class and the third affluent.

As non-disabled households are a huge fraction, it is not surprising that their shares are highest in each tercile. In the non-disabled households, the proportions are almost equally distributed among the terciles. In the lowest disability group (<0.31) at the household level, the proportion in the first tercile is lowest, and highest in the second and third terciles. The highest disability group (>0. 60), however, offers a contrast. Their proportion in the lowest tercile is highest compared with other disability groups but slightly lower than the proportion in the second tercile. Their proportion in the third tercile not just within this disability group but also across all other disability groups is lowest. Thus highly disabled are largely confined to extreme poverty with most restricted prospects of becoming affluent through barriers to long duration employment (including but not limited to discriminatory practices in hiring the disabled).

Ironically, while the SDGs assign high priority to preventing and overcoming disability, officially adopted by 193 countries including India, the FM’s budget for 2020-21 is not just a missed opportunity for growth stimulus but almost cruel to those experiencing persistent health deprivation by cutting the health outlay.

(Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England, and Research Affiliate, Population Studies Centre, University of Pennsylvania, USA).

Adapted from: Disabled and Extremely Poor, The Hindu, 6 March, 2020.

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