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Young people in India, even those with multiple degrees, are unemployed

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Teachers have long had to deal with challenges. The pandemic seemed to push them to new heights, though. In the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 567,000 fewer educators in public schools today than there were before the pandemic. And a recent new study revealed more than half of all teachers in this country want to quit. In India, though, the opposite is true. Some are waiting years to get a chance to teach. In fact, some of the most educated young people there are unemployed. Raksha Kumar reports from Uttar Pradesh.

SHIKHA PAL: (Speaking Hindi).

RAKSHA KUMAR, BYLINE: Last year, Shikha Pal did something surprising. She shows me a video...

PAL: (Speaking Hindi).

KUMAR: ...Of herself climbing to the top of a giant 60-foot municipal water tank in her hometown of Lucknow. She camped out there for seven months...

PAL: (Speaking Hindi).

KUMAR: ...Surviving on biscuits. She had to climb down and walk a mile and a half every time she needed to use the toilet. She did this, she says...

PAL: I'm doing a long protest, approx seven-month protest.

KUMAR: A protest about unemployment. Seven years ago, Shikha quit her job at a local bank. She wanted a higher salary and benefits, so she got a teaching certification. But for five years, she still hasn't gotten a placement in a public school.

SANDEEP PANDEY: No, it shows the desperation of the youth.

KUMAR: Labor activist Sandeep Pandey says Shikha is not alone. Thousands of qualified teachers are waiting for jobs in her one city alone.

PANDEY: She was the only one on the top of the tank. The rest of them were protesting on the ground, and the government was just not listening to them.

KUMAR: Unemployment is hard to measure in India because most people work informally in agriculture or manual labor. But as the country gets richer, there are more college graduates with higher expectations. Reetika Khera is an economist.

REETIKA KHERA: At one end of the spectrum, people have job security, and they also have world-class benefits. They even have pensions when they retire. But this is available only to less than 10% of people in the workforce.

KUMAR: If you're in a second-tier city and you don't speak English, even if you have those multiple master's degrees, jobs with those kind of benefits just don't exist, Khera says. That's why 1 in 5 college graduates in India is unemployed. Some of them are angry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A heavy contingent of police fail to control the protesters who squatted on railway tracks, vandalized property...

KUMAR: Riots broke out in January in northern India after 12 million people applied for just 35,000 job openings at the state railway company. Most of the protesters had college degrees. They set fire to train carriages. I traveled to where it happened, calling ahead to a student club to tell them I was coming.

I'm walking into a rather broken-down door. A bunch of students with multiple degrees and no jobs are sitting inside the room waiting to talk to me.

SUMIT GAUTAM: (Speaking Hindi).

KUMAR: Sumit Gautam rattles off a long list of degrees - three bachelor's degrees and a law degree but no job.

GAUTAM: (Speaking Hindi).

KUMAR: Why did I study so hard if the only job I can get is selling snacks on the street, he asks. The Indian government says it's creating more jobs for educated graduates, but it's not happening fast enough for people like Shikha, who spent seven months atop that water tank. Nowadays, Shikha makes tea for her mother in the apartment they share. She is still unemployed, still waiting for a teaching job to open.

PAL: (Speaking Hindi).

KUMAR: But, she says, she's determined to find meaningful employment that matches her qualifications.

For NPR News, I'm Raksha Kumar in Lucknow, India.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBOHANDS' "STRANGE TIMES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.