A blacker middle class: families of Brazil’s middle-class boom

black Brazilians

Previously concentrated at the base of the pyramid of income, blacks are 80% of the 35 million people that ascended socially, pointing to a more homogeneous country

Ten years ago, Rio de Janeiro residents Edilson Pinto Martins, 41, and Vera LúciaNascimento, 42, began dating. He, a freelance designer, and she, a trained psychologist who worked as a telemarketing clerk, lived a life without luxuries and depended on the help of their parents, especially when they decided to marry. Two years later, Nina was born and the situation got even tighter. The family gave her bedroom accessories and bought diapers for the child. In a few years, everything changed. When Daniel was born, in 2010, the couple skipped the baby shower. Edilson’s family is part of the 80% of  those that ascended to the middle class that are black according to the survey of Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos(SAE or Strategic Affairs Secretariat) from the Presidency of the Republic, released last week. In total, 35 million Brazilians climbed into this social range in the last decade.


New gadgets (starting from yellow box at top left): Rosana looks at photos of the last party with her digital camera. Children have a computer and television to play videogames. Nelson accesses the internet with his notebook. Felipe got his own tablet earlier this year. Rosana and Leticia, 10, each have a Smartphone

“We didn’t have the luxuries that we have (now). We had already had our lights cut off for nonpayment when we got married. Today, I have four computers, a Smartphone, two LED televisions, a maid and we even planned our first international trip,” says Edilson, who puts money away in a savings account. Nina, 7 years old, goes to a good private school and Daniel will go to kindergarten next year. After falling into bankruptcy five years ago and starting an in home design company, Edilson improved his life and now the family monthly salaries total  R$4,000 (US$2,000), leaving them at the top of the intermediate salary range defined by SAE, as those who have a monthly salary of R$291 (US$145) to R$1,019 (US$509) per household member.

In this photo (top to bottom) there are keys to the family’s two cars, an LCD television (one of two in the house), cable TV and a DVD player

The ascension of blacks is one of the most important phenomena of the new middle class. Now, they are more than half the members of this income bracket that ten years ago was 38% of the population and is now reaches 53%, or 104 million people. It’s a group that has a total income of R$680 billion (US$340 billion). Of this total, R$352.9 (US$176.4) billion is income of blacks, almost double the R$158.1 billion (US$42.7 billion in Sept. 2002) recorded a decade ago. “The black population was the absolute majority of the class D (low income) and with decreasing inequality in recent years it’s natural that it has achieved more substantial economic improvements,” says Renato Meirelles, associate director of the Data Popular Research Institute, which supported the SAE research. Unlike the low-income group that was just trying to survive, those who ascend to the middle class care about the future, how to maintain the gains achieved and to ascend further. They start to have access to healthcare and invest in education.

The Santos family

Stephane Santos, 20, a pedagogy student at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), still remembers the difficult days of the family that migrated from (the southeastern state of) Minas Gerais to São Paulo in search of opportunities. At first the father, Josélio, 49, sustained the woman, Maria Margarete, 45, with the sons working as bricklayers. With no money to buy furniture, a stand and a board were sometimes made into a table and everything was recycled. “We earned from the church a monthly food basket and a scholarship in a computer course for me and my sister,” recalls Stephane. The house itself was the big dream of the family, but at that moment it was an almost unreachable desire. That began to change when Margarete learned how to sew and entered the labor market seven years ago.

Edilson and Vera dediced to invest in the education of their children

The girls, still teenagers, besides studying, began working with the mother to supplement the income and then their dreams began to come true. With a household income of just over R$3000 (US$1,500), the Santos family has paid off their own house, a car, a computer, appliances, a cultural life and travel back to Minas Gerais every year to see relatives. “Before, we only visited them when a tragedy happened and they sent us money for the trip. Now we travel to see them every year,” says Stephane. João Elias, the youngest of the family, 12 years old, is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the economic ascendance. “He won’t start working early like the girls did. We’ll invest in his education,” said Maria Margarete.


Socioeconomic profile: The government study considers members of the middle class families that have monthly salary of R$291 (US$145) to R$1,019 (US$509) per household member. 104 million people, 53% of the Brazilian population are part of the middle class

In the past decade, 6% of the middle class rose to the upper. Thus, racial diversification is also coming to the elite, the group of which Rosana Paz, parliamentary advisor, 41, and Nelson Oliveira, 43-year old engineer, of the northeastern state of Bahia are now a part. With two cars in the garage and a house on the beach, the couple is preparing to travel with their 14 year old son to Disneyland on vacation. “We also plan to go to Paris, which is my husband’s dream”, says Rosana, the daughter of a washerwoman and a policeman who graduated in Letters with the help of six older brothers. Given these changes, the trend, experts say, is that prejudice is overcome. “Not because discrimination will decrease, but because people will realize that if they do not deal well with this group they will lose a significant portion of customers to the competition,” says anthropologist Reinaldo da Silva Soares, who defended a master’s thesis at the University of São Paulo (USP) about blacks in the middle class.



 35 million people ascended into the middle class in the last decade; almost 80% of these new middle class members are black

The housewife Joselice Araújo dos Santos, 47, is another member of this new black middle class.  A resident of Campo Limpo Paulista, in the eastern part of São Paulo state, she has conquested what, for the government, is an essential item to be part of the middle class: people living in households with a certain monthly per capita income (R$291 – R$1,019 per household member) and having a low probability of becoming poor in the near future. “Today I can say that I am part of this class, but a few years ago, no. My life was very precarious, but today I have nothing to complain about.” She lives in her own house, which he considers her greatest achievement, has a car and every year she travels with her family to the (northeastern state of) Bahia. This is also the case for Beatriz Rodriguez, 33. “I consider myself middle class because I have my own house, a car and I went to college, among other conquests, like a notebook. Besides that, my purchasing power has grown quite a bit.”

Total income of this group came to R$680 billion (US$340 billion) and is expected to rise to R$1 trillion (US$500 billion) this year. The income of Afro-Brazilians went from R$158.1 billion (US$42.7 billion in Sept. 2002) to R$352.9 (US$176.4 billion) billion in the last ten years. Members of the middle class average 41 hours working hours per week. 


The survey data also indicates that the reduction of the lower class was more intense than the expansion of the upper class. From 2002 to 2012, 21% of the lower class population ascended to the middle class while 6% of the middle class rose to the upper class.

Joselice Araújo dos Santos and family
The Minister of SAE, Moreira Franco, highlighted the importance of the growth of the middle class to boost the economy of the country, because this bracket of the population accounts for 38% of income and household consumption. “About 18 million jobs were created in the last decade. These formal jobs were associated with an appropriate policy of minimum wage bringing real above inflation gains to Brazilians,” said Franco.

Total income of this group came to R$680 billion (US$340 billion) and is expected to rise to R$1 trillion (US$500 billion) this year. The income of Afro-Brazilians went from R$158.1 billion (US$42.7 billion in Sept. 2002) to R$352.9 (US$176.4 billion) billion in the last ten years. Members of the middle class average 41 hours working hours per week. 

The growth of middle class income has been higher than the rest of the population, according to the data presented in the study. While in the last decade the average income of this segment grew 3.5% per year, in the same period, the average income of Brazilian families of the other classes grew 2.4% per year. “The Brazilian middle class will move about R$1 trillion (US$500 billion) in 2012,” estimated Renato Meirelles, of the Data Popular research institute who participated in the survey.

Source: Istoé, Guia Digital Cidade
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About Marques Travae 3611 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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