Over the past 10 years, the profile of the Brazilian classes has changed greatly, with an expressive increase of the middle class. However, more access to consumption has not changed some life styles, as we are going to explain in this article.
A recent study made by IBGE has discovered that at least 50% of the families living in favelas belong to the new middle class. The same study has also presented the astonishing data that almost 5% of the favela inhabitants technically belong to the upper class.
It is not that people from classes A and B have simply decided to live in favelas. What happened is that the easy access to credit and the positive economic moment in Brazil allied to more access to universities have started to promote social mobility.
What is understood as “middle class”?
The Division for Strategic Affairs has classified as belonging to the middle class families that are very unlikely to become poor in the future, with an income per capita ranging from BRL 291,00 to BRL 1.019,00. Anyone with a per capita income that surpasses monthly BRL 1.019,00 would then belong to the upper class.
The same criteria determines that Brazilians with a per capita income ranging between BRL 162,00 to BRL 291,00 are considered to be poor and those with an income inferior to BRL 162,00 would be in the poverty line. Data from the last census shows that 51,2% of the families living in favelas would belong to the middle class, while 4,57% would belong to the upper class.
What is life like in the favelas?
The general idea of favelas – and the idea Brazil has exported – is of a dangerous place where irregular homes are settled, with unpaved streets and plywood or cardboard houses. This is the way it used to be in Brazil some decades ago. Of course, this type of settlement is still found in Brazil, but local governments have worked to urbanize these areas, providing electricity, paving and tap water. Governments don’t urbanize these areas out of kindness, but also because this a way to regulate the payment of taxes and infrastructure services, such as electricity and tap water, that used to be “stolen” from the closest street where they were available.
Anyone visiting a favela for the first time would be surprised at how sophisticated its houses can be. In major favelas such as Rocinha (Rio de Janeiro) and Heliópolis (São Paulo) it is possible to find many households in which there are brand new cars and televisions, cable TV, family members traveling by airplane and with a college degree.
The social inequality so typical of Brazil is extended to favelas as well, as there are impressive contrasts between the households. As the definition of middle class is too broad, it ends up including families with very different life styles in the same category. A household with a per capita income of BRL 291,00 differs greatly from a household with BRL 1.019,00 per family member.
Social mobility sustained by debt
The increasing accessibility to credit has contributed for the social mobility experienced in Brazil. Most people owning a brand new TV acquired it through a credit card or a crediário, paying it in 12, 24 or even 36 installments.
The direct long-term result is an expensive debt that leads to ever-increasing levels of insolvency. To that extent, the same credit offer that led people to the middle class will be responsible for preventing them from reaching the upper-class.
Why people don’t leave?
Many people must ask themselves why people who now have reached a better life standard do not leave favelas. The answer is that many of the people living there don’t think it is bad at all, especially if they can have a comfortable life, with their own car, a spacious house equipped with all electronics and home appliances they have always dreamed of.
Also, there is a general belief that living outside the favelas is more dangerous than living inside them. Many people living in favelas claim to share a feeling of community and that there is a mutual respect among its members. Favela residents feel protected by their own neighbors and take this into account when thinking about leaving the area.