139 million Indians likely to run out of savings by month-end

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30% of India’s urban population may deplete their lifetime savings by the end of June and would find it difficult to meet essential consumption.

In the best of times, India’s poor lead a fragile existence but in the worst of times their situation becomes extremely precarious. The lockdown of the country over the past few months has discomfited everyone but it has hit the urban poor the hardest.

Measuring vulnerability accurately is difficult but an analysis based on data from official sources suggests that even in the most optimistic scenario, close to 30% of India’s urban population could be out of savings and unable to cover essential expenditure by June-end. In contrast, the rural poor, though hit hard, are relatively better off with still some savings and welfare support to fall back on.

According to one survey, 84% of households suffered a loss in income since the lockdown. As incomes fell, Indians had to rely more on their savings to cover essential expenditure. But for the poorest in cities, these savings rapidly dried up. To estimate how quickly savings are running out, we consider different scenarios of income losses for the poorest 50% of Indians (rural and urban separately) during the lockdown. For instance, in the worst-case scenario, we assume incomes in cities fell by an average of 82% across the three phases of lockdown between April and June while in rural India, which was less affected by the lockdown, we assume incomes fell by 66%. These scenarios are based on different studies that all report income losses within these ranges.

Taking a moderate scenario of incomes falling by 62% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas, close to 92 million urban Indians (20% of the urban population) and 89 million rural Indians (10% of the rural population) ran out of savings to fund essential consumption after the first 21-day lockdown.

Given the government’s support to farmers and quicker reopening of the economy in rural areas, we estimate rural Indians would be able to cover essential consumption till June end. But in urban India, about 139 million Indians (30% of the urban population) would still run out of savings by the end of this month.