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Poverty in India in the face of Covid-19: Diagnosis and prospects

India has been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus has exacted a heavy toll in terms of lives lost and deteriorating health outcomes. The economic consequences of the pandemic have been similarly grim. In this paper we attempt an initial, interim, assessment of the impacts of the crisis on poverty. We review the growing literature that considers emerging poverty impacts, noting that there remain significant knowledge gaps due to limited evidence on current welfare outcomes. We analyze pre-Covid survey data to examine the incidence of chronic poverty and downward mobility during a period of rapid economic growth and declining poverty. A profile of poverty during such a period might offer a plausible, partial, window on population groups currently at risk. We suggest that, notwithstanding the severe initial impacts of the crisis on poverty, there are grounds for expecting further consequences going forward. As the virus has spread out of the relatively affluent cities, and as economic stagnation persists, rural areas, with historically higher rates of chronic poverty and vulnerability, may see particularly sharp increases in poverty. While recent vaccination developments offer some grounds for optimism, there remains an urgent need to identify, implement and amplify effective policy alleviation measures.


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