Substantial numbers of the population in rural communities are either unemployed or underemployed: the lack of a diversified job market produces only seasonal employment and a sporadic flow of income into a village; graduates who reside in a village may be unable to find useful and productive jobs; and there are few opportunities for women to be gainfully employed. This inadequate and irregular income-base seriously affects the ability of families to send their children to school and also denies them domestic amenities, such as electricity, which are otherwise available. It produces a hand-to-mouth existence which precludes vital participation in long-range planning. Many rural communities in the developed world lack a viable economic base.
Limited access to youth employment and low wages encourage young people to leave the community, threatening its vitality. At the same time, increasing numbers of local people, facing the prospects of seeking employment in deteriorating, problem-plagued urban centres, are opting to work where they are rather than uproot families. Although there may be many people with business and mechanical skills and training, they are faced with little opportunity for local employment except farming. Wages are rarely higher than the minimum and repetitive, monotonous work is the rule, with closed ended jobs and inadequate benefits. Those who wish to live in these communities must often accept these jobs or commute great distances to alternative work.
Large scale mechanization of agriculture in many small communities has put many people out of work, while at the same time opportunities for other means of employment are increasingly limited. The harvesting and growing of local crops are seasonal occupations and provide only a fraction of the jobs they once supplied, and expansion is restricted as small farm operators discover that most agricultural development assistance is focused on large enterprises. Efforts to supplement family income are blocked for young mothers, for there are often no day-care facilities available for children under three years of age; as a result, income is less than adequate to meet expenses. Many small town residents migrate to big cities to find better opportunities; this migration affects the entire town. Failure to create opportunities for gainful employment in small communities results in the economic fabric being unable to support the needed development effort.
Idle or partially idle people are the greatest waste of resources in developing countries. Low productivity both causes and results from this situation; there are simply not enough jobs off farms to employ all who are looking for them, or who would leave farming and take up other work if it were available. Thus the farm population in the developing countries is over large; the excess people on farms stay there because, in the absence of work in urban areas, they are at least reasonably sure of some food, of housing, and of the protective care of the family, which takes the place of a wide range of social services. Constant underemployment persists, especially at certain times of the year. In overpopulated countries (such as Egypt or India) the rural areas are also overcrowded, resulting in widespread underemployment and disguised unemployment of human resources. Indeed, in many countries it is evident that total agricultural output could be increased if fewer people were living on the land and the size of agricultural units was increased. Thus, surplus labour in rural areas in most cases is not an asset and in some cases is definitely a liability for increasing agricultural output.
In 1993, there were at least 100 million peasants (out of a total rural population of 900 million) unemployed. One half of these are seeking jobs in the cities. Increasing areas of land are now left fallow to avoid attracting taxation.