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India’s population is set to outstrip China’s. That, along with the rise of Indian unicorns and electronic payment transactions, has stirred heady optimism about the country’s economic prospects. Outside of Africa, India will have the youngest population for the next few decades. The “demographic dividend” of young Indians could power an economic boom. More likely though, a gargantuan problem — seventy-five years in the making — will get worse: given the Indian economy’s chronic inability to absorb job seekers, new generations of young aspirants will enlarge the pool of largely unproductive, poorly paid, and frustrated workers.
The severity of India’s employment shortfall is best measured by its “surplus labour,” a concept much broader than the “unemployment rate.” Quite simply, most Indians cannot afford to stop working. Instead, multiple people (often within an extended family) enter
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