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Covid-19 Pushes India’s Middle Class Toward Poverty


Anil G. Kumar, a civil engineer, was one of them. Around this time last year, he and his family were about to buy a two-bedroom apartment. But when last year’s lockdown hit, Mr. Kumar’s employer, a construction chemicals manufacturer, slashed his salary by half.

“Everything turned turtle within a few hours,” he said. Three months later, his job had been eliminated.

Now Mr. Kumar spends his days in his home in a working-class neighborhood in the western part of Delhi, searching for jobs on LinkedIn and taking care of his son.

The family’s middle-class life is now under threat. They survive on the $470-a-month salary Mr. Kumar’s wife draws from a private university. Instead of holding a big celebration for their son’s 10th birthday at a restaurant, which would have cost nearly $70, they ordered a cake and a new outfit for about one-fifth the cost. Mr. Kumar also canceled his Amazon Prime subscription, which he hadn’t used in a while.

“Every day you can’t sit on the laptop,” he said. “At times, you feel depressed.”

India’s middle class is central to more than the economy. It fits into India’s broader ambitions to rival China, which has grown faster and more consistently, as a regional superpower.

To get there, the Indian government may need to address the people the coronavirus has left behind. Household incomes and overall consumption have weakened, even though the sales of some goods have increased recently because of pent-up demand. Many of the hardest hit come from India’s merchant class, the shopkeepers, stall operators or other small entrepreneurs who often live off the books of a major company.

“India is not even discussing poverty or inequality or lack of employment or fall in incomes and consumption,” said Mahesh Vyas, the chief executive of the Center for Monitoring of the Indian Economy. “This needs to change first and foremost,” he said.


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