The EPF payroll data for the entire year of 2020-21 was recently released with the availability of numbers for March 2021. These numbers were keenly awaited to understand the impact of COVID-19 induced lockdowns. Here is a deep dive into the numbers related to new subscribers, exits & rejoinees.
‘Loss of Employment’ has been one of the major effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown across the globe. As per the updated analysis published by International Labour Organization(ILO), there were nearly 114 million job losses in 2020 relative to 2019.
Furthermore, ILO’s annual estimates affirm that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruptions in the world of work. In 2020, 8.8% of the global working hours were lost when compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, which is equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs. The impact varied across the countries.
As per the report, the estimated annual decline in the working hours is 13.7% in India for 2020. India was in a nationwide lockdown from the last week of March to the end of May’2020, with the gradual relaxation of the stringent lockdown measures in several phases. This had an impact on the economic activity in the country, with various reports asserting the loss of employment. The pandemic had an effect across various sectors. However, there is no official estimate as yet from the Indian government on the status of employment and job losses in the country due to the pandemic.
However, information from various sources can be analyzed to understand the impact on employment in the country. One such source is the information released by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO). Earlier, we did a story analyzing the EPFO information specific to the first quarter of 2020-21 i.e. the period during the lockdown. We analyze the numbers for the entire year of 2020-21 and compare it with the earlier years to understand the trends in EPFO member subscription and what it means in terms of employment.
Recovery in the Monthly Net Subscribes during the last quarter
The monthly ‘Net Subscribers’ to EPF is the net value of – New Monthly subscribers, Members exited & Members who rejoined EPF.
As highlighted in the earlier story, during April & May’2020, there was a fall in the number of new subscribers and a corresponding increase in the number of subscribers that have exited EPF. This had resulted in a negative ‘Net Payroll Numbers’.
However, June’2020 marked the beginning of the recovery with the Net EPF payroll numbers becoming positive. The trend continued in the subsequent months, peaking in September’2020 with a Net EPF Payroll of 12.16 lakhs.
However, in the ensuing quarter i.e., Q3, there was a fall in the net EPF Payroll only to recover in the final quarter. Similarly, fluctuations were observed in the number of establishments newly subscribing to EPF. After recording lower numbers in April & May’20, the numbers have subsequently increased in the ensuing months. The highest number of new establishments making contributions to EPF was in October with 5.1 thousand. This number fell in the later months. The number of new establishments making contributions to EPF fell in the last quarter and witnessed a month-on-month decline.
Recovery in last quarter can be attributed to fall in the number of Exited members and increase of Rejoinees
As explained earlier, the Net Payroll is the result of three variables – New EPF members, Members who have exited, and Members who rejoined. The trends in these three different EPF membership statuses have an impact on the overall net payroll numbers.
The highest Net-payroll for the year 2020-21 was recorded in September ‘2020 and this can be attributed at large to the increase in the number of new EPF members for that month. In Sep’2020, more than 11.83 lakh new members joined EPF. However, this was followed by a decline in the number of new EPF joinees in the subsequent months. This particular increase in September 2020 can be attributed to the month being the last month for the second quarter and this was the quarter when the economy started opening up.
Meanwhile, the number of members who exited EPF witnessed a fall through the year. The increase in numbers during the first quarter i.e., April-June’2020 was followed by a gradual fall in the number of members exiting EPF in the ensuing quarters.
These exit numbers are based on the number of claims submitted by the employer and is done only after two months of non-contribution. Therefore, the numbers do not exactly correlate to the specific month but provide a trend over the 12-month period.
Comparatively, the number of members who have re-joined EPF has shown a largely increasing trend. While the month-to-month numbers varied, the numbers during the later quarters are much higher than that of the first quarter. These trends over the year, show an improving employment situation by the end of the financial year, though the number of new members has decreased.
The comparative increase in the New EPF members can be attributed to an increase in the entry-level organized jobs or an increased propensity of the organized employees to invest in EPF savings. The initial increase in the number of exited members was a worrying aspect, as it indicated the possibility of a loss of employment. The fall in the number of exited members along with an increase in those who have rejoined, points to an increase in the number of persons finding new and alternate employment, probably after the loss of employment at the beginning of 2020-21.
Number of New EPF subscribers was declining even prior to 2020-21
During 2020-21, around 85.5 lakh persons newly subscribed for EPF in India. In spite of the recovery during the latter part of the year, the lower numbers reported during the first quarter of 2020-21, had an impact on the overall numbers.
- The number of new subscribers in 2020-21 is lower than in 2019-20 when there were 1.1 crores of new EPF subscribers. The lower numbers in 2020-21 can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the lockdown.
- However, it ought to be noted that this decline is in continuation of an earlier trend. In 2018-19, the number of New EPF subscribers was around 1.39 crores which fell to 1.1 crores in 2019-20, a fall of 21%. The number of new EPF contributors fell by 22.5% in 2020-21.
- EPFO has only been providing this information since September’2017. Hence, we have not considered 2017-18 for the year-wise comparison. However, the average monthly new EPF members come up to 12.08 lakhs per month for 2017-18. In 2018-19, the average was 11.62 lakhs, which fell to 9.2 lakhs & 7.12 lakhs per month in 2019-20 and 2020-21 respectively. This decline in the monthly average validates the declining trend that was observed even before the pandemic set in.
Although there has been an increase in the number of exited EPF members during the first quarter, the overall yearly figure is still lower than the previous years. In 2020-21, 97.8 lakh persons exited EPF, compared to 1.09 crores in 2019-20 and 1.22 crores in 2018-19. Compared to the monthly average in 2019-20 (9.16 lakhs), the monthly exit numbers reported since Septmeber’2020 are lower.
While there is a declining trend in the number of those exiting EPF, there is an increase in those that have re-joined. In 2018-19, it was 44.64 lakhs, which increased to 78.13 lakhs in 2019-20. It is difficult to ascertain the reasons behind the increase in those rejoining EPF with the available data. However, it can be understood that the increase in those rejoining EPF, is an aftereffect of people exiting EPF and later finding employment again. In 2020-21, those rejoining is much higher with 89.42 lakhs, and this could in part be due to people finding employment once the economy opened up.
However, the net EPF numbers are still slightly lower in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20.
Granular information can provide further insights on the trends
The year-on-year fall in the number of new EPF subscribers points to a lack of new employment opportunities at the entry level, which further reflects the prevailing trend in the economy. However, the increase in the number of those rejoining EPF, indicates that there is higher mobility in terms of experienced job holders, who are able to find new jobs.
Detailed age-wise analysis of those subscribing to EPF can throw further insights into understanding these trends. We would analyze the age-wise trends along with the trends in various states of the country in our next story.
Featured Image: EPF Data for 2020-21