Moving on up! Despite a sharp economic downturn in recent years, nearly half a million blacks have entered Brazil’s upper and upper middle class

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Encontro da Rede de Profissionais Negros (Facebook)
Photo courtesy of the Rede de Profissionais Negros

Even in an economic downturn, upper and upper middle class gains 464 thousand blacks

Study shows that the combination of pretos (black) and pardos (browns) represents 5.4% of this track of the earnings pyramid 

By Marques Travae

Even in an economic downturn, upper and upper middle class gains 464 thousand blacks

The economic downturn in Brazil has wreaked havoc on millions of Brazilians who lost many of the gains made in the past decade and a half with many returning to poverty after having managed to escape its clutches in this period. But even with such losses affecting so many, 464,000 defining themselves as pretos or pardos managed to enter the A and B economic classes. Classes A and B represent Brazil’s upper and upper middle classes.

This change is miraculous considering the fact that, in the previous year, a total of 800,000 people were forced out of this economic range.

On the other hand, in the same period, 1.5 million people joined the ranks of class E, the lowest economic range, an increase of nearly 9%.

Considering that pretos and pardos are always located at the base of the economic pyramid, this unexpected good fortune raises eyebrows for two reasons: one, it happened during one of the country’s worst economic crisis and, two, it is the only demographic that actually made gains during the economic crisis from 2016 to 2017.

The rise of pretos and pardos represents 5.4% in class A and 1.2% in class B, according to study conducted by Cosmo Donato, an economist at LCA Consultores.

By current calculations, families belonging to classes A and B break down as follows. Those households that have earnings over R$14,200 per month are considered class A, meaning upper class. To qualify for class B classification, a household must bring in R$4,000 and R$14,200 per month, which qualifies such a household as class B, or somewhere between mid-middle class and upper middle class.

Household units, according to the method used for this study, are made up of four persons living under one roof.

On the other side of the pole, households earning up to only R$714 per month are classified as class E, the lowest in the classifications. Note that R$714 per month is actually lower than the minimum monthly salary of R$ 954 per month.

To get an idea of why this is significant the increase of blacks into the class A and B is important, consider the fact that overall, class A saw a decrease of 2.7% while class B decreased by a percentage of 0.7%. As a matter of fact, the ascension of pretos and pardos is responsible for the growth of the better off economic classes.

“If we were not in crisis, it is possible that this insertion would have been even greater,” says Donato.

The raw numbers come by way of the PNAD, a study conducted by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics).

The results of this study seem to point to the opening of access of pretos and pardos to joining the upper economic classes by means of affirmative action policies in universities as well as a parcel of the business community. Although the verdict isn’t complete on this diagnosis, it cannot be denied that such policies have led to a noticeable demographic change in Brazilian society.

rachel maia
Rachel Maia, Brazil’s only black woman CEO of a top 500 company

Rachel Maia agrees with this theory. Maia, being the CEO of the jewelry company Pandora, represents the extremely rare profile of a black woman calling the shots at one of Brazil’s top 500 companies. Asked about inclusion policies affecting the black population, Maia said: “I don’t doubt that there is a more inclusive view, although not being possible to say that the change for validating already occurred.”

Noting an air of change in the air in the business world, Maia points out that previously when there was a need to fill a vacancy in a management position, a white male was automatically chosen. Nowadays, according to Rachel, when this situation occurs, out of five people that may show up to fill the slot at least two of them will be black candidates.

Vicente - Setor de TIC precisa mostrar aos jovens que não é 'um bicho-papão' - CDTV (CC)2

For José Vicente, the dean of Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (UniPalmares College), considered the only black college not only in Brazil, but in the whole of Latin America, the surge of black Brazilians into the upper economic classes is the result of more than affirmative action policies, but rather an increased presence of black people in various realms of Brazilian society in general.

“But this should happen in the next few years. There is a whole new generation coming out of the university and positioning itself,” says Vicente. As such, the surge of this new generation of blacks into companies in numbers that simply would not have possible in previous decades.

Another example of this opening of the door to more Afro-Brazilians into prominent positions in the workforce is the initiative by Protagonizo, a startup company that connects qualified Afro-Brazilians with college degrees and proficiency in English with recruiters searching for new talent.

Heading up Protagonizo are the partners Anderson Carvalho with Alexandra Loras, the former consulate of France in Brazil. In Carvalho’s opinion, companies have begun to see the importance of having a workforce that represents the true face of Brazilian society.

The recruiter HRtech 99jobs has a similar agenda, offering the program O Melhor Estágio do Mundo, meaning ‘the best internship in the world, directed specifically at the black population.

“For the first time, we closed the fastest program between the companies [Santander, Suzano, Natura and Magazine Luiza]. Then companies that were not customers contacted us to find out more. It is not a matter of trend,” said 99jobs president Eduardo Migliano. “There is a quest to equalize teams,” he says.

Recent success stories of the company are people like 25-year old Diego Guedes and 23-year old Gustavo de Jesus. Guedes is finishing up his course of engineering at Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná while de Jesus studied administration at Mackenzie, one of Brazil’s top universities. Guedes and de Jesus connected with the 99jobs program and their experiences show why such programs are necessary. Gustavo was the first black participant of the initiative back in 2016, the year of the company’s first program.

Critics may see such initiatives as a form of reverse of discrimination, but few want to address the fact of the matter: black Brazilians are often passed over in the market that covertly but sometimes blatantly reject black talent. This often leads to black people looking at the lack of black faces in companies and believing there is no place for them.

“The job that calls for advanced English bars many of us,” says Diego, who grew up on the outskirts of the city of Jacareí in the state of São Paulo.

Belonging to class AAA, Rachel Maia is aware that she is the exception to the rule. Today, Brazil’s minimum salary is R$937 per month. In 2014, 79% of Brazilians earned up to three minimum salaries per month. Three minimum salaries per month currently add up to about R$2800. On the flip side of the spectrum, Brazilians who earn up the 20 minimum salaries per month make up less than 1% of the population. At current rates, 20 minimum salaries currently adds up to R$18,740. Maia worked her way up to this economic status, already having held down management positions is well-known companies such as 7 Eleven, Tiffany & Co., Novartis and recently, Pandora.

She recently left her post as CEO of Pandora and is detailing her rise in the business world in a book, yet another rarity among black Brazilians. Enter into any major Brazilian book chain and one will instantly notice the lack of books written by black Brazilian authors, and this already very small percentage gets even smaller if we take away people involved in sports and entertainment.

Maia, like so many other black Brazilians, had to struggle to get to where she is today. She is the youngest of seven siblings from the southern region of São Paulo, the daughter of a janitor father who would go on to become a flight mechanic at Brazilian airline, VASP. Rachel sees her father as her inspiration in life.

“I am an executive who specializes in consumer experience, and I have often seen that the shoe was a bit bigger than my foot, but I have always prepared a lot for the challenges,” she says.

A requirement at top levels of Brazil’s business world and necessary to even be considered in important positions, Rachel studied English and also took courses in some of the most prestigious places of higher learning, such as Harvard University in the United States. But, being a black woman, the parcel of Brazil’s population that is located at the bottom of social pyramid, the climb was obviously not easy.

On example will demonstrate this. In a previous article, we discovered that black women make up 0.04% of the CEOs of Brazil’s largest 500 companies. In other words, four-tenths of 1%. Maia herself IS that 0.04%! Well, was, at least temporarily, as she has recently taken a sabbatical from the post.

The scenario hasn’t changed much although Maia sees a slight change in attitudes; this change isn’t necessarily leading to results.

“But I cannot ignore the fact that I see the interest of other presidents – white and generally men – but that is not enough, it’s not him who’s hiring.”

Maia believes that diversity of gender and race does matter but has tried to avoid situations in which her color is barrier to her advancement.

“I’ve already avoided situations, I also need to strengthen myself with others, I also need heroes.”

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Good article!! I know things are really slow in Brazil for Blacks but we are getting on the right track.

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