The impact of COVID-19 on livelihoods and mental health among the urban poor in India

  • With a population of 1.3 billion people, of which many are informal workers lacking access to social security, India faces significant policy challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent lockdown.
  • Based on surveys in urban clusters of Delhi, this study provides evidence on the immediate and near-term impact of the crisis on the livelihoods and mental health of informal workers.
  • The study shows that men’s employment declined significantly post-pandemic. In contrast, there was no major impact on women’s employment – as reported by their husbands.
  • The study documents very high levels of mental stress, with wives reporting worse mental health than husbands. Social networks are found to mitigate mental stress for husbands but exacerbate it for wives.
  • The findings underline the need for a large injection of public spending and transfers to address this social and economic crisis. The long-term impact on urban employment and earnings will largely depend on government measures to kick-start private business and manufacturing activity. Further, mental distress, which has potential implications for worker productivity, is a deeply neglected aspect of the ongoing pandemic that needs to be addressed.