The Growing Middle Class of Brazil’s Slums


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Brazil’s burgeoning middle class have an important place in the country’s slums. This finding is part of a survey released by the newly created Instituto Data Favela which established that, in 2013, 65% of the country’s slum-dwellers belonged to the middle class. In 2003, this proportion was 33%.

Celso Athayde, creator of youth group Central Única de Favelas (CUFA) and Instituto Data Favela, explains that the National Department of Strategic Affairs considers a family to be middle class, or ‘class C’ when their monthly income is in the range of R$1,064 to R$4,591 (US$480 to $2,060). “But we are not only interested in the middle class,” he argues, “We want to benefit all community residents through sustainable and comprehensive development, achieved through economic avenues.”

Somewhat inevitably, this research also showed that the lower classes have decreased in Brazil’s slums. Class D (where income is between R$768 and R$1,064 ) and class E (income less than R$768) fell from 65% in 2003 to 32% in 2013. Athayde believes this was achieved by an overall reduction in extreme poverty driven by the economic growth experienced across the country in recent years, which in turn has resulted in an increase of employment and entrepreneurship among the population.

Higher purchasing power

Beatriz Soares, 21, a resident of Complexo da Maré, falls into this middle class status, despite the fact that water, sewerage, electricity and gas are not regulated in her home. “I’ve never missed anything here at home,” says Soares, a student of Journalism. Her parents run a bakery in the slum and have a monthly income in excess of R$2,000. This income allowed Soares to study in private schools, today making progress in English and Theatre studies.

Soares demonstrates an increased consumption among families of the slums: she has health insurance, her own car, computer and cell phone. Furthermore, her spending on clothing is constant. “I love buying clothes from stores in the mall,” says Soares. She is not alone in her lifestyle. Instituto Data Favela found that most households in the slums have refrigerators (99 %), washing machines (69 %) or microwaves (55%), with many also owning a plasma, LED or LCD TV (46 %), or freezer (38%).

A lack of basic services and economic stability

Marildo Menegat, philosopher and Professor at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro views this data with less optimism, claiming that the country’s economic growth is nearing the end of its shelf life. According to Menegat, the Brazilian economy has experienced a cycle of excess credit growth in the last seven years, which leads to consumer debt. He considers this phenomenon to be a bubble that is close to bursting. “The tendency, as in Europe, is that those in debt become unemployed either through the cutting of corporate spending or through not having a fixed income, creating problems with family and financial obligations,” said Menegat, pointing to the fragility of this current perceived empowerment in the nation’s slums.

Celso Athayde found that slum dwellers, despite their income technically making them class C, often do not consider themselves to belong to the middle class. According to him, this is due to the chronic lack of infrastructure in their neighborhoods, which did not grow nor develop at the same rate as residents. “Services such as transportation, health, sanitation and education are still very inefficient and undermine the entire infrastructure of these regions,” says Athayde.

By Thathiana Gurgel. Originally published in Portuguese on Viva Favela.