Economic migration during the COVID-19

AR Tahseen Jahan, Quazi Afsain Haque and All-Marufi Rahaman Sajon | Published: 00:00, Jul 19,2020

apparel worker leaving the capital, Economic migration during the COVID-19

An apparel worker leaving the capital after losing his job during the COVID-19 pandemic. — New Age/Sourav Lasker

Rural people were lured into urban economy with promises of better pay and lifestyle, in most cases, that remains an illusion. The pull factor, gradually over time, has become a push factor and included millions of rural people in informal sectors in the cities. Their skills did not match the requirements of the urban jobs thus most of the workforce had to stick to manual labour thus very minimum pays with zero job security. These sections of urban economic marginalised groups are the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also mostly excluded from government social safety nets. AR Tahseen Jahan, Quazi Afsain Haque and All-Marufi Rahaman Sajon talks about the urban to rural migration

MD Shah Alam was a craftsman of mosaic floor, which has been obsolete for a time being now. He lives in a village near Madhabpur. He was out of work and so thinking better of it he decided to move to the financial center of Bangladesh, Dhaka City, in 2017 when the unemployment rate in urban areas was already 4.9 per cent.

He is a minuscule spore with respect to the constant mass exodus of labor from rural to urban regions in Bangladesh. Apart from forced migration of rural people due to climatic adversities, loss of arable lands, river erosion et cetera. People also migrate to cities in pursuit of jobs with higher expected wage than rural areas, like Alam. But the city, per se, has really less to offer up its sleeve. Let’s see why.

Rural economy of Bangladesh revolves principally around the agricultural sector in which more than 40 percent of the labor force is involved at present, but its share in the national economy is quite sparse standing at15 percent and is set to shrink further for oodles of environmental and social aspects. That entails a huge unemployment rise in the rural areas.

According to Sir Arthur W Lewis’ growth model, this surplus labor from the agricultural sector of rural economy is supposed to migrate to the industrial sector of the urban economy. Which actually envisages it right in the present case scenario of Bangladesh.

But the urban economy also suffers from a huge underemployment problem, which means that non-farm works in the urban areas will need to assimilate the influx of labor from agriculture who have migrated to the cities.

The Harris-Todaro growth model contends that rural people migrate to cities as long as their expected income is higher, which, by principle, concurs with Arthur Lewis growth model. The main assumption of this model is that migration attitudes are led more by expected income differentials between rural and urban areas rather than just wage differentials. However, in the case of Bangladesh, there has been an urban-rural wage convergence. Expected wage in the urban areas is not as big as expected. Furthermore, the industrial-agricultural wage differentials have collapsed to such extent that the manufacturing sector has become impotent in case of pulling the surplus labor. Thus, the rural-urban migration of the workforce in our country is characterised more by the ‘push-factor’ than the ‘pull-factor’ as identified by Harris-Torado growth model.

This huge bulk of people, who are actually ‘pushed’ towards the cities from rural regions, are agricultural labor. They are practically not equipped with technical skill or education. That’s why the supply of labor is way too much than the demand in low-skilled jobs, where the wage is less as well. For this lack of technical prowess, the larger amount of work force keeps wallowing in low paying, relatively unproductive informal sector jobs.

This is how the number of economically marginalised working force keeps increasing in the cities. Not only that, in most of the households a single earning member needs to bear the expense of 4 to 5 or even more members in the family, which forces a downward inclination of the per capita income and pushes people under the poverty line. Moreover, these informal sector jobs don’t necessarily offer any financial security. Other facilities in informal sector jobs are also non-existent.

Government also seems to have very little enthusiasm in ensuring the financial security of this huge community living in the cities devoid of any urban facilities and minimum security of their livelihood.

Only 17.84 per cent of poor people living in towns and cities receive support from social safety net schemes, whereas 35.77 per cent of the economically marginalised people living in rural areas enjoy more amenities, according to a World Bank report. This is a significant factor among many to fuel up the ratio of extreme poor in urban areas. Even though poverty is still highly rural, it is urbanising rapidly with the increase of rural-urban migration of inefficient workforce.

So we can easily conclude that there is a huge community of people living now in cities without any proper or no job whatsoever, with no financial security for any extreme situation who are also excluded from government’s social safety net.

The year 2020 came with one of the most devastating calamities affecting the whole world simultaneously, the COVID-19 pandemic. The world-economy is badly affected by it if not warped. Our country is witnessing the largest disruption of livelihoods in her history. The National Telecom Monitoring Centre reports a huge amount of people leaving Dhaka city for rural areas or suburbs, which presumably would be the same for other big cities.

These are people who have roots in villages or suburbs, leaving cities as the expenses have started to become unbearable. But there is also a huge community who was ‘pushed’ towards cities, couldn’t afford the means of transport to anywhere at all, who couldn’t ensure their next meal, it would be a practical joke with them to ask to leave the cities.

Therefore, they are left to get emaciated with empty belly, unable to earn due to the coronavirus situation and live through an inhumane story each.

AR Tahseen Jahan, Quazi Afsain Haque and All-Marufi Rahaman Sajon are students of the University of Dhaka.

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