Sutinahs day begins just like he started before the pandemic. She packs her stuff at 6:30am, takes the scooter to glide through the narrow alleys of Jakarta, on her way to work. But her job is no longer a comfortable office job.
During the economic downturn due to the corona crisis, her job was reformed. A year ago, as a 28-year-old woman, she drove to the private bank where she made her money as a data entry employee. Now she parks her scooter next to a gas station, puts on a Hello Kitty suit, puts an Elmo head on her head, and is a 29-year-old sad clown begging for money.
Her Elmo head is a bit shredy. One of the eyes has come off half. As a result, Elmo has a dejected look. Its almost too symbolic. “When I started, I was embarrassed. I was shocked that a woman with a nice job behind the computer suddenly has to beg at 2000 rupiah in passing cars.”
Because its hard work. Its always around 30 degrees in Jakarta, and Sutinah is dancing and waving in a way too hot suit from 9am to 5pm.
In this video, Sutinah talks about her days:
But she has to, because there is hardly any social safety net in Indonesia. At least 2 million Indonesians lost their jobs during the pandemic. And the government offered those people 300,000 rupiah monthly, converted 61 euro cents a day. “Thats not even enough to buy food,” says Sutinah.
The street clown or sad clown is a well-known phenomenon in Jakarta. People who dress up and practice their dance or trick on the street in the hope that passers-by will put some money out of the car. Their numbers have grown enormously during the pandemic. “You see people dressed as punks, or they paint silver. Even though its just mothers who take their children to the streets. You can see that happening a lot now.” The latter could just be because, according to the Jakarta Post newspaper, dress up shops are running overtime.
It is striking that Indonesians from the economic middle class such as Sutinah can fall so deep. Especially when you know that the economy is growing again for a long time. Indonesia recorded 3.2 percent growth last year, and the expected growth this year is more than 5 percent. But, according to economist Piter Abdullah, it is mainly the rich who benefit from it. “Thats actually quite normal. The rich have possessions that still earned income during the pandemic. So you can say that they can become rich dormant.”
And the rich can still lie quietly on an ear. Indonesia is on track to call China as a country with relatively the most super-rich. Research shows that the number of Indonesians will increase by 67 percent annually by more than 30 million dollars until 2025. Nowhere in the world is that number growing so fast. It is one of the signs that Indonesia is fast on its way to achieving its goal of being in the top 5 largest economies in the world in about 20 years.
But in the meantime, a sad clown like Sutinah is asking for bills of 10,000 rupiah along the way. As always, more people drive on than stop. “Fortunately, a number of them always stop.” It shows that the social safety net is too fragile to build a stable middle class that can take a hard economic blow.
“The economy must therefore also be thoroughly reformed,” says Piter Abdullah. “There must be limits for the rich. For example, by burdening their assets more heavily. In addition, there must be more projects to support the poor.”
But until then, Sutinah has to cap her own beans. She sits on the sidewalk for a while, to take off her Elmo head and puff out. After that, she counts the few hundred thousand rupiah she got that day. “Im really not going to do this forever. Ill take care of that anyway, even though I dont have a job right now. When I have a job, Ill stop as a clown.”