Brazil’s new middle class paving way for future
SAO PAULO: Maria Aparecida Silva didn’t finish high school until just two years ago, but she has already told her two teenage children that they’re college-bound.
Silva, 38, works 14-hour days as a cleaner and restaurant cook in Brazil’s southern city of Florianopolis so she can afford private school and a college education for the kids, a car and motorcycle for herself, a house for the family. Middle class lives, in other words.
“I want them to have another kind of life,” she said. “I never had anyone to do this for me.”
Despite the persistence of deep inequalities, a growing Brazilian middle class is now transforming Brazil, altering the economy and even national values.
For a country long divided between a small, wealthy elite and a vast army of have-nots, the emergence of a strong middle class is also moving Brazil closer to achieving its long-sought goal of joining the ranks of developed nations.
Defining a middle class is difficult because of cost-of-living differences across the world, but Brazil uses a five-tier system to classify its population by income.
The middle tier, the so-called Class C, comprises those with household income between 1 115 (R4 850) and 4 807 reais a month, compared with a minimum wage of just 465 reais.
Last year, after gaining through the decade, the middle tier swelled to more than half the country’s 190 million people. After a slight contraction earlier this year, Class C is growing again on the back of a robust economic recovery.
Economic turmoil in the 1980s and ’90s kept millions of Brazilians mired in poverty, as hyperinflation ate away at wages and made saving money difficult, not to say pointless.
But an economic overhaul in 1994, followed by an inflation targeting system in 1999, gave Brazilians much-needed stability to start planning for their financial futures.
More recently, economic growth and welfare programmes have helped lift about 19 million people out of poverty since Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s first working-class president, took office in 2003.
“Brazil has developed a very solid middle class, which we all used to say was impossible in Latin America,” said historian Thomas Skidmore.
That class has learned how to snap up status symbols, like televisions and cars, Skidmore noted. Sales of new automobiles in the country jumped almost 20 percent in September.
The middle class is in a better position to press for social changes, as well, such as improved public schools or stronger political institutions.
Those kinds of gains “come from society demanding it”, said Shannon O’Neil, a Latin America expert.
Middle-class citizens have more time and access to resources, she said. But their lives aren’t so privileged that they don’t need government services.
“(It) means people think beyond just tomorrow or the end of the week. It’s not a panacea, it is a different mentality.” – Reuters