Indonesia’s vulnerable families still lagging behind in economic recovery: Survey

The survey concluded that the nation was mired in a so-called K-shaped recovery, and suggests that there is a trend toward a widening wealth gap.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


Police officers and local fishermen move staple food packages at a COVID-19 public kitchen set up by the Tegal Police in Central Java on June 22, 2021.(Antara/Oky Lukmansyah)

December 21, 2022

JAKARTA – A recent survey has sounded alarms about inequality on the country’s road to recovery, as vulnerable families, including households with disabled members or those that are led by women, are facing tougher challenges to bounce back from the pandemic compared with more well-off families.

The survey interviewed close to 11,000 households of different economic conditions nationwide in February and March of this year, when the country was still reeling from an Omicron-fueled third wave of infections. The respondents in the survey made up nearly 90 percent of households that were polled in November 2020, during the first year of the pandemic.

The study that was published last week, along with the findings in November 2020, was a collaborative work between UNICEF, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Economic Development (Prospera) and Jakarta-based SMERU Research Institute.

They concluded that the nation was mired in a so-called K-shaped recovery in which “the wealthiest households were emerging from pandemic-induced economic setbacks while the rest were stagnating or even deteriorating.” The phenomenon suggests that there is a trend toward a widening wealth gap.

The survey found that one in three families depended for their income on a small business they ran and six in 10 family-owned businesses were now operating as usual. There were also fewer people who reported heightened anxiety and mental depression, down from 25.4 percent in 2020 to 17.6 percent this year.

Households in the top income quintile in the survey said they had recovered around 20 percent of their income after a 29 percent income drop due to the pandemic. But the bottom quintile of households had only recovered 15 percent of their income from a 37 percent drop. The survey did not detail income between different groups.

The survey noted how households struggling to recover were usually those with disabled members, families that were led by women and families that were led by a man or woman whose educational background was not higher than middle school.

These vulnerable families were also more likely to resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the economic pressure, including borrowing money from relatives, friends or loan sharks, selling or pawning their belongings and even eating less to reduce their food expenditure.

This also coincides with an additional 1.47 million households being food insecure this year, compared with 2020 data.

Gender inequality

The survey found increasing trends of gender inequality, with women often having to juggle job and home.

Around 65 percent of children relied on their mothers to help them during their online schooling, compared with 25 percent of children who relied on their fathers. Seventy percent of families also left the responsibilities of doing household chores to women. Despite this, around 45 percent of women who helped their children learn at home had full-time jobs.

The survey also found that women were disproportionately disadvantaged in the pandemic-battered job market, with female workers being four times more likely to have stopped working in 2022 than male workers.

Of the women who were in the workforce in 2019, some 32 percent are still currently unemployed this year. Meanwhile, only 8.9 percent of men who worked in 2019 are still currently unemployed.

Conversely, two thirds of women who started working in 2022 could only land a less stable option of informal jobs this year.

Combating inequality

One of the survey’s lead researchers, Athia Yumna of SMERU, said the economic uncertainty looming over vulnerable families had only been further exacerbated in recent months.

“[These families] are still [facing] three additional threats: climate change, a global conflict [stemming from the Russian invasion in Ukraine that triggered a global food crisis] and the rising costs of living in the country,” Athia said.

She added that families in Indonesia were also facing the risk of further economic setbacks, should the country’s COVID-19 cases and deaths rise again.

To this end, she said the government had to nip the rising economic inequality by improving its social aid programs.

“The government needs to ensure that the existing social protection systems can provide a comprehensive and inclusive cushion for all families in their different life cycles,” she said, adding that this should also include gender-sensitive measures to address the economic pressure faced by women.

Maniza Zaman, a UNICEF representative in Indonesia, said the survey had “underpinned the importance of improving the social protection system” to ensure that no one was left behind in the country’s economic recovery efforts.

“Addressing this issue is key for Indonesia to achieve its long-term vision of becoming one of the world’s 10 largest economies by 2030 and reducing all forms of poverty to near zero,” Zaman said.

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