The World Bank has just launched their flagship report on South Asia, “More and Better Jobs in South Asia”. It is estimated that South Asia, which is home to more than 40 percent of the world’s absolute poor, will contribute nearly 40 percent of the growth in the world’s working-age population over the next several decades. Just during the past two decades, South Asia has created close to 800,000 jobs per month. Improvements in the quality of jobs has been linked to strong economic growth in countries like India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, whereas in Nepal, it has been linked to massive outmigration, with workers’ remittances accounting for half of the decline in the poverty rate, despite the country showing slow growth.
The region as a whole has done really well in terms of creating and improving jobs. If the region is to continue enjoying such good news, major structural reforms are needed instead of relying only on high growth. As more than a million new entrants join the labor force, absorbing those entrants and providing them jobs of improved quality will be the main challenge.
So what are some of these structural reforms that would benefit the South Asian labor force? The report highlights first and foremost the need for access to reliable electricity supply. Indeed, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal had some of the highest reported power outages in the world on average during 2000—2010, with Nepal experiencing up to 19 hours of power outage daily during dry winter. Dealing with corruption is also high on the list of reforms. Improving education and nutrition remain top priorities to create a healthy labor force. Without serious structural reforms, South Asia may only be adding to the quantity of jobs, compromising on their quality.