Wed, 30 Apr 2008
Debnath Guharoy , Consultant

Nursing a sprained back and conscious of the need to meet the deadline for this weekly column, I decided to take time out to tune into the keynote speech of Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the annual dinner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in Detroit on Sunday evening.

In watching the speech "live" on television, my purpose was to come to my own conclusion about the man that has both inspired and damaged Barack Obama's bid for the Oval Office.

Half an hour later, I concluded he was truly inspiring, a visionary, a man of faith, not just his brand of Christianity. For me, his message was simple. People of different backgrounds are different for cultural reasons; no one is superior or inferior, better or worse by birth. We just need to recognize that, learn to get along and work to right wrongs.

But for those of you who are interested, read the analysis that will follow in the days and weeks ahead. Hear the sound bites taken out of context and the distortion of his message. Criticism will be construed as hate, differences of opinion will be translated into weaknesses of intellect. Inevitably, race and religion will creep in.

Depending on what you're reading or watching, you will form an understanding possibly far from the truth as you read or listen.

When you stop to think about it, you'll realize you too nurse several "facts" and "beliefs" you may indeed wish to question. A few weeks ago, I drew attention to the popular view that there are 100 million "cellular subscribers" in Indonesia, while the truth is the number is close to half that.

Today, let me draw attention to the critical issue of unemployment in Indonesia. Depending on who you speak with, there are between 10 and 20 million people unemployed in this country. BPS data states about 12 million. The term "unemployment" is defined in the dictionary as the state of an individual looking for a paying job but not having one.

By that definition, there are at worst only 7 million people currently unemployed.

That 7 million comprises 4 percent of the potential workforce "looking for full-time work" and 1 percent "looking for part-time work". In most countries, this is good news, certainly from a political perspective. Suddenly, the unemployment problem is almost half the size it was perceived to be.

Instead of being greeted with relief, these numbers will be dispensed with a bureaucratic flick of the finger. Discussions will ensue about "classification and terminology".

Questions will be asked about whether Roy Morgan Research definitions include "open category" and other such arguments, completely ignoring the common-sense reality that you cannot be unemployed if you aren't actively looking for a job.

At any point in time, about 6 percent of the potential workforce "doesn't work". That translates to about 9 million people, comprising students contemplating their future as well as girls who will work at home biding their time to get married and raise their own family.

Then there are the disabled and those who simply choose not to work but live off others. We often forget the fact that in a conservative culture, 26 percent of the potential workforce are housewives. Unleash that underlying demand and there would be an employment crisis even bigger than the official view of 10.6 percent unemployment in the country.

Seven million people unemployed is a very large number, regardless of the percentage. It is cause for concern, grief and even shame. What is even more worrying is that the small businesses, or "micro-businesses", are on the decline.

The significant growth in full-time employment during the second half of 2008 and the decline in demand for part-time employment is driven by the increased cost of living, particularly food costs.

Almost all of the growth in new employment is from "unskilled or semi-skilled workers". That almost inevitably means more people are working harder for the most meager of wages, given jobs by kind benefactors on the one hand and mean exploiters on the other. In that sense, underemployment and low wages remain a heavy burden on society.

The marketing of mass consumer products and services provides the explanation for growth last year. More people are working and more people are working harder for less. The big question in their minds is: "How long can this continue?".

For continuing coverage of these key questions, watch this column for the results as they unfold. In the meantime, all ideas and efforts that help create new businesses, new jobs and better wages will all help enlarge a consumer economy for the common good of Indonesia.

These conclusions are based on Roy Morgan Single Source, the country's largest syndicated survey with over 27,000 Indonesian respondents annually, projected to reflect almost 90 percent of the population over the age of 14. The results are updated every 90 days.

The writer can be contacted at Debnath.Guharoy@roymorgan.com



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