Indonesia’s youth want jobs and lower cost of living from the next president

Faced with a bleak job market and increasing cost of living, many young voters are looking to the incoming president to tackle the bread-and-butter issues, and ideological concerns like climate change.

Linda Yulisman

Linda Yulisman

The Straits Times


Mr Aditya Teguh Anandar, 19, a university student, is tightening his belt to survive on his monthly scholarship stipend of one million rupiah. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES

February 9, 2024

JAKARTA – On weekdays, production assistant Dandy Febriansyah puts in long hours at a start-up in Jakarta. And on weekends, he is a freelance photographer.

All this in a bid to make ends meet and support his ageing mother and brother, who was recently laid off.

For the 24-year-old, job security and better employment prospects are at the forefront of his mind as he mulls over which candidate to vote for in the Feb 14 presidential election.

“Certainly, I want a job with a decent pay,” said Mr Dandy, who dropped out of university in 2020 due to tight finances.

He earns about five million rupiah (S$430) from his full-time job, around the minimum monthly wage in Jakarta.

“I am scared of losing my job because the start-up businesses in Indonesia are now unstable. I am worried because even big start-ups have laid off a lot of their staff,” he said.

Indonesia is witnessing start-up layoffs in line with the global trend in the tech industry, often dubbed as “tech winter”.

Meanwhile, university student Aditya Teguh Anandar, 19, is tightening his belt to survive on his monthly scholarship stipend of one million rupiah. Over the past few months, he has tried to cook more at home, or choose cheaper options when he eats out – for example, ordering tempeh, which is made of fermented soya bean, and vegetable dishes instead of eggs and fish.

“I hope the next president can lower basic food prices, especially for the low-income people, who are really affected by even a slight price increase,” said Mr Aditya.

Faced with a bleak job market and increasing cost of living, many young voters like Mr Dandy and Mr Aditya are looking to the incoming president to tackle the bread-and-butter issues, and ideological concerns like climate change.

And with over half of the roughly 205 million electorate aged 17 to 40, addressing the interests of these young voters will be the key to victory for any presidential candidate, analysts said.

The worries of this segment are not new. A 2022 survey by Jakarta-based think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies showed that young voters in South-east Asia’s largest economy were most concerned about the high cost of living, limited job opportunities and other issues, such as environmental degradation and pollution.

Another survey by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia in September 2023 revealed that keeping prices of necessities low, along with generating jobs and reducing unemployment, are the key issues that the next president must address.

As at August 2023, Indonesia’s general unemployment rate was 5.3 per cent, with 7.9 million jobless people out of a workforce of 147.7 million, according to Statistics Indonesia. However, the unemployment rate of those aged 15 to 24 was much higher, at 19.4 per cent.

Indonesia’s youth jobless rate, which in 2022 stood at 13 per cent, is higher than that of its regional peers, such as the Philippines (6.3 per cent), Vietnam (7.4 per cent), and Thailand (4.5 per cent), according to the World Bank.

Around 295,000 people were laid off from January to November 2023, up twenty-twofold from the same period a year earlier. The massive layoffs mostly affected workers in the labour-intensive industries of textile and footwear, and were caused by weaker global demand for these products.

With a year left until he graduates, third-year university student Adil Setyo Pangestu, 20, worries about finding a job, noting that a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee one will land a decent job.

Said Mr Adil: “My friends told me it was hard for them to get jobs, and they had been unemployed for quite a long time. Some had to work as freelancers before finally getting permanent jobs.”

The three presidential candidates – Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, 72; former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, 54; and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, 55 – have tried to address some of these concerns in their campaign trail policies, promising to create up to 19 million jobs. But they have not come up with detailed proposals, analysts said.

Mr Anies seeks to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem to generate start-ups and young entrepreneurs in various sectors in a bid to reduce unemployment. Mr Prabowo aims to create quality jobs by encouraging businesses to employ young people and providing alternative financing for small firms. Mr Ganjar seeks to give small-sized enterprises easy access to credit.

Dr Kunto Adi Wibowo, a political communication expert from Bandung-based Universitas Padjadjaran, said: “All presidential candidates are trying to address the youth’s concerns. But I don’t see that they elaborate in detail their strategies both in the vision statement and presidential debates.”

Mr Bhima Yudhistira, director of Indonesia think-tank Centre of Economics and Law Studies, noted that while all candidates promise to create jobs, not all the positions will meet the needs of the young people or match their skills.

Mr Bhima said to stem youth unemployment, the next president must promote policies that focus on education and skills matching. These include improving the quality of vocational schools and universities to meet the needs of the industry, and encouraging entrepreneurship among local communities.

This will also help Indonesia benefit from its demographic dividend, he noted.

Since 2019, Indonesia, which has the fourth-largest population in the world, has experienced a demographic dividend, which is a favourable demographic trend where its working-age population is larger than its non-working-age segment.

Around 69.3 per cent of Indonesia’s population of 275.4 million as at June 2022 were of the working ages of 15 to 64, according to the Home Ministry. Ideally, such a demographic shift can be a catalyst for economic growth if harnessed effectively.

But Indonesia can reap the benefits only if it tackles the issues of youth unemployment and upgrading the skills of its labour force, said Mr Bhima, adding that not dealing with these problems will impede it from becoming a developed nation.

“We will also face various social problems, such as political instability and high criminal rate,” he said.

Under President Joko Widodo, who is serving his second and final five-year term, Indonesia has set it sights on becoming the world’s fifth-largest economy by 2045, when the country celebrates its 100th year of independence.

Hence, it is all the more crucial that the next president addresses the concerns of the young, said Dr Ujang Komaruddin, a political expert from Al Azhar Indonesia University. Failing to do so could trigger not only political apathy and loss of trust, but also economic losses, such as the loss of talent when qualified youth move overseas for better jobs. “They have to accommodate the youth interest and fulfil their promises to help develop Indonesian young people.”

Some young voters, like climate activist Ginanjar Ariyasuta, 24, of climate campaign group 350, are troubled that tackling climate change does not seem to be a priority for any of the presidential candidates.

“All (candidates) still have plans to develop the mineral processing industry and rely on coal and fossil fuels,” he said, adding that the next president must have the political will to facilitate the transition to renewable energy sources.

He added: “The young generation is the one who are most affected by the climate crisis, with their future at stake. We must do energy transition now.”

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