Over 34% of wage workers and more than 37% of self-employed people, who suffered pandemic-led income erosion, have not yet seen their incomes reach their pre-pandemic levels, according to a recent survey.
Experts link slow recovery in jobs and incomes mainly in transport, hotel, and restaurant sectors to not reopening educational institutions and many businesses.
Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, research director of South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (Sanem), told The Business Standard, "Covid-induced income and employment losses have not recovered yet. Staffers who saw salary cuts owing to the pandemic are yet to get back to what they would get at normal times. Besides, there is no recovery of businesses of self-employed people."
"It is essential to identify the sectors, which are yet to return to normal, and consider separate stimulus packages with minimum conditions," Dr Sayema, said while presenting findings of the survey titled "Covid-19 Impact on Labour Market and Migration: Results from Sanem's Survey" published virtually on Wednesday.
The telephone survey was conducted between 2 January and 20 February this year. Among the respondents, 2845 households were non-migrants, 230 internal migrants, and 273 international migrants.
"Self-employed people should be in the policy focus as they are experiencing slower recovery," she added.
In Dhaka, incomes of 31.1% wage workers and 41.8% self-employed people are yet to recover, according to the Sanem survey.
It also found that the Barishal division has the highest unemployment rate of 12.94% and Khulna has the lowest of 3.23%.
Sanem also noted that 20% of international migrants lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told TBS that it will take time to get back to a normal employment situation.
"Even if the economy recovers, jobs will not be fully adjusted," he added.
Golam Moazzem urged the government to declare an employment-enhancing budget so that public investment can increase.
The major sectors where incomes are yet to recover to normal are transportation (55.3%), construction (40.5%), agriculture, forestry and fishing (38.4%), manufacturing-RMG (37.8%), manufacturing non-RMG (32.7%), and wholesale and retail trade (18.7%).
The report also stated 27.8% of the workers have already recovered from income losses, while the remaining 38% are not affected.
Besides, the survey showed that among the self-employed respondents' incomes are yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels in transportation (57.6%), hotel and restaurant (48.6%), manufacturing (42.2%), wholesale and retail trade (39.0%), agriculture, forestry and fishing (31.5%).
Of all the self-employed in the survey, 43.2% have now recovered from financial losses, while the remaining 19.5% are not affected by the pandemic.
Dr Selim Raihan, executive director of Sanem, said, "Most of our policies are product market-oriented. If we do not focus on the labour market and factor market, our economic recovery will be slower. We need innovative and pragmatic policies."
As a panellist at the event, Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, said, "Apart from the pandemic-triggered unemployed, around 20 lakh youth labour force is waiting to enter the job market."
"Even private investment has mostly remained stagnant. If there is no investment, how will new jobs be created," he added.
The study also highlighted job shifting tendencies of the respondents during March-December last year when around 5.4% of wage-employed respondents changed their professions. Even, 61.5% of respondents saw salary cuts and the highest cut was in Sylhet and the lowest in the Chattogram division.
On the contrary, more workers employed in urban regions lost their jobs compared to workers employed in rural regions.
Sanem recommends that job creation in urban areas be the prime focus with longer-term strategies for decentralised job creation.
The report said 80% of the self-employed faced a decrease in production, profits, or sales amid the pandemic.
Job losses for international, internal migrants
The survey found that migrants who returned home from Middle Eastern and East Asian countries reported the highest job losses.
The highest 31.4% job loss was in Malaysia, followed by 28.6% in Kuwait 18.9% in Saudi Arabia.
Among the respondents, 5% returned to home amid the pandemic.
Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, founder chair of Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit, said, "We have not been able to bring migrants under the social safety net yet."
Sanem also recommends making strategies to integrate returnee migrants into the domestic market and adopting policies towards smooth migration through diplomatic negotiations and reducing migration costs.
On the other hand, around 49% of internal migrants had returned to their native villages as they could not afford expenses because of either job losses or non-payments or salary cuts under the pandemic impacts.
However, almost everyone returned to the city at the time of the survey.
Some 14% of internal migrants lost jobs during March-December 2020.