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Non-migrant Workers in Delhi See Income Drop by at least 57% During Lockdown: Study

Image used for representation
(REUTERS/Mayank Bhardwaj)

Image used for representation (REUTERS/Mayank Bhardwaj)

The researchers point to the role of extreme fear and media coverage in driving these unprecedented behavioural changes.

  • PTI
  • Last Updated: May 16, 2020, 3:44 PM IST
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New Delhi: Almost two months into the coronavirus-induced lockdown, non-migrant workers in Delhi have seen their average weekly incomes drop by at least 57 per cent, according to a combined study done by a US and a Canadian universities.

The study uses data collected from 1,392 non-migrant workers, many of whom live in Delhi's informal settlements. The data was collected in 2018, 2019, and during the lockdown, between March 27 and May 13.

By the first week of May, nine out of 10 survey respondents stated that their weekly income had fallen to zero, the study conducted by the University of Chicago and the University of British Columbia said.

The study found that non-migrant workers have seen their average weekly income drop by at least 57 per cent since the lockdown began.

To capture the impact of the lockdown that started on March 25, the study compared economic and behavioral outcomes for these individuals before and after the lockdown.

"For example, the average weekly income of our sample pre-lockdown was USD 39.46 (Rs 2,994). In Round 1, average income decreased to USD 24.10 (Rs 1,828.64) and in Round 2, average income fell further to USD 5.43 (Rs 412)," the study said.

The Round 1 was from March 27 to April 19 and Round 2 was from April 25 to May 13.

In addition, the study notes that there have been devastating impact of the lockdown. There are relatively high rates of mental and emotional well-being problems, ongoing challenges in food supply chains, in terms of higher prices and lower quantities, and dwindling levels of reported savings, it found.

Despite this unprecedented income loss, the study found widespread compliance with public health directives important in reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

Compared to levels before the arrival of COVID-19, mask usage rose from 20 per cent (during the air pollution season) to 90 per cent; time spent indoors increased from 44 per cent to 95 per cent, and regular handwashing rose from 88 per cent to 98 per cent, the study said.

"Even for non-migrant workers in Delhi, the lockdown has been devastating economically. But it also brought about a massive change in behaviour. People started wearing masks more, they stayed indoors and socialized less, they washed their hands more regularly, there were even fewer reports of smoking. These habits are crucial for limiting the spread and the health impacts of the virus," said Ken Lee, Executive Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in India (EPIC India) and the lead author of the study.

"A big question we have right now is whether these positive behaviours can persist once the lockdown is lifted, even as fear and media coverage of COVID-19 begin to subside," he added.

The researchers point to the role of extreme fear and media coverage in driving these unprecedented behavioural changes.

Throughout the lockdown, 80 per cent of people reported feeling extremely concerned about COVID-19.

To demonstrate the unparalleled media coverage of COVID-19, the researchers used Twitter data to show that since March 25, COVID-19 coverage has accounted for more than 56 per cent of all media coverage.

Lee said, "For this particular group of mostly non-migrant workers in Delhi, we have not yet seen alarming changes in rates of hunger, access to health care, scarcity, or security. A lot of people reported benefiting from the Delhi government's food assistance programme. That said, the latest projections expect a surge in infections in the coming months, and so the government should prepare itself to rapidly expand these types of assistance programmes."

India's economy has been severely hit by the coronavirus-induced lockdown and thousands of migrant workers across the country are walking back home due to lack of transport facilities.

The non-migrant workers were also severely hit after most of them lost their means of livelihood post lockdown.

The national lockdown also had a drastic effect on movement in Delhi.

Using Facebook mobility data, the study also showed that intra-city movement dropped by 80 per cent, immediately following the Janata curfew, where it remained through early-May.

The sample for the study was drawn from two subsamples, including individuals enrolled from hundreds of low-income, informal settlements across Delhi, as well as individuals (commuters) enrolled at public bus stops in Delhi and its surrounding environs.

Both of these subsamples were generated through randomised sampling procedures.

Between late-2018 and late-2019, prior to the onset of COVID-19, in-person surveys were administered across the sample, in which baseline social and economic data was captured.

"Given the rapid onset of COVID-19 and the economic shock of the India lockdown, simple pre-post comparisons of data offer insights into the effects of the coronavirus, thus far," the study said.

The average weekly income at baseline is roughly Rs 3,000, compared to roughly Rs 6,000 in the representative National Sample Survey (NSS) data corresponding to Delhi.

Also, although 32 per cent of the sample held salaried jobs at baseline (i.e., occupations that pay income monthly, as opposed to daily), 29 per cent held jobs commonly associated with the lower rungs of the income ladder, including auto-rickshaw drivers, street vendors, skilled labourers, construction workers, and domestic workers.


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