Urban Poverty & Livelihoods – The India Urban Conference: Evidence and Experience (IUC 2011)

Shared by Nidhi Singh nee Batra-PRIA

The India Urban Conference: Evidence and Experience (IUC 2011) was a series of events designed to raise the salience of urban challenges and opportunities in the ongoing debate on India’s development. The series was convened by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (JCCD), and the South Asian Studies Council at Yale University, in collaboration with other organizations.

The “Urban India 2011: Evidence, was created as a briefing for panelists at the India Urban Conference: Delhi policy dialogue on 22 November 2011, and enables policymakers, private sector and civil society leaders, and other practitioners to ground their views derived from experience in some of the broader evidence on the state of India’s urban areas and settlements.

An interesting briefing was created on urban Poverty and Livelihood issues that raise many questions and highlights many characteristics of Urban Poverty in India. Below is the excerpt from this briefing:

Urban Poverty & Livelihoods

This section presents data on the persistence of poverty and inequality in urban areas, read particularly through the lenses of slums and unemployment.

Some points to note:

  • First, although the proportion of the poor in the total population is falling both in urban and rural areas, the absolute number of urban poor is increasing. The extent to which this is due to movements of existing urban residents into poverty versus in-migration is not clear. Migration may be the first step toward higher incomes and movement out of poverty. In other words, while the overall number of urban poor maybe increasing; it need not imply that the families are not moving out of poverty. However, if migration is not an important factor, then rising numbers of the urban poor point to declining incomes, assets and consumption and asset shocks.
  • Second, poverty’s relationship with the current settlement structure is important. Concentrations of poverty are associated with ‘slums’ leading to the assumption that large million plus cities with visible slums have higher concentrations of poverty. Million plus cities are indeed home to 40 percent of the slum population. However, the majority of the poor are, in fact, concentrated in medium and small towns – 80 percent of the urban poor reside in cities with populations less than one million. These findings have critical implications for current national policies on urban renewal and reform, particularly those targeting urban poverty.


Source: Data on poverty from Lanjouw and Murgai (2011)

  • Third, cities are sites of opportunity – for some. As in the case of greater inequality in consumption expenditure over the 2000s, wealth distribution in urban areas demonstrates greater inequality than wealth distribution in rural areas. Traditional caste hierarchies of rural India appear to be reproducing themselves in urban India, contrary to popular perception. In urban India, the Hindu forward castes continue to enjoy higher ‘incomes’ at all levels of wealth distribution compared to SCs, STs, OBCs and non-Hindus.
  • In terms of employment, the extent of informality in urban employment is high at around 70 percent. It has remained largely unchanged over the course of the past decade.  Almost 60 percent of total urban employed are wage workers, and 67 percent of this category are informal wage workers.  The remaining are largely the urban self-employed, which include own account workers, employers, and contributing family workers.  Only a small proportion of the self-employed (about 5 percent) are employers, while the majority (74 percent) are own-account workers.  The composition of urban informal employment is similar, with about 50 percent being wage workers, 40 percent working as own-account workers, and the remaining working as employers and contributing or unpaid family workers.  The proportion of wage workers in informal employment has increased since 1999-2000.


Source: Chen and Raveendran (2011)

Most urban employment is informal, a situation that has remained stable over the past decade.

  • Classified by industry, the largest category for urban employment is non-trade services, which includes transport, domestic workers and waste pickers.  Non-trade services also have the lowest proportion of informality.  If economic restructuring continues and output concentrates in sectors where informal employment is relatively low, we might see a shift in the share of output and employment in the future, further skewing the urban livelihood profile and highlighting the need for a broad-based urban social safety net.

 Source: Chen and Raveendran (2011)

Non-trade services are a varied category, combining transport, domestic workers and waste pickers.  Almost all domestic workers and waste pickers are informally employed, implying that much of the formal employment in this industry is in transport.

To access to the entire document click on the link below:




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