Even in its most profitable city, Brazil’s inequality is getting worse

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Brazil’s inequality

Av. Pres. J. Kubitschek, São Paulo. Photo: Davidson Luna

Despite its status as Brazil’s largest, most lucrative city with a reputation for big business, new research from NGO Nossa Rede São Paulo shows just how deep the metropolis’ inequalities run. And these inequalities are not signs of Brazil’s recession taking its toll on the city, according to researchers working on the report. Instead, they say, the NGO’s ‘Map of Inequality’ has revealed that the city’s government places more emphasis on catering to business interests than it does on helping the public. And moreover, this has been the case since the NGO first began collecting annual research in 2012.

“Governments are structured to defend private interests,” said Jorge Abrahão, the NGO’s research coordinator, at the report’s launch. “There was no significant reduction in inequality or improvement in the quality of life.”

The NGO’s 2017 map looks at indicators of social development across the city. Some indicators show a distinct gap: life expectancy between residents in the neighborhoods of Jardim Paulista, located centrally, and Jardim Ângela, on the periphery, differs by some 24 years.

Meanwhile, the neighborhoods with the highest and lowest homicide rates sit right next to one another: Moóca has 1.23 deaths for every 100,000 inhabitants, while Brás has a troubling 38.76.

Other indicators measured by the NGO count access to healthcare, education, and residency among the most important factors. Once again, Rede Nossa de São Paulo showed that the city’s public resources, much like its wealth, is concentrated in a few central areas. The maps also showed that whites are four times more likely to live in the city center, where the majority of formal jobs are concentrated at a rate six times higher than elsewhere in the city.

The study shows that the further away one lives from the city’s center, the higher the likelihood is that resident would be black or mixed race. Gender inequalities in these regions are also startlingly high: wage gaps between men and women São Paulo’s peripheries range between 25 percent and 49 percent, and black women are the most likely to face unemployment. A further 33 districts throughout the city also registered that no hospital beds were available.

José Luiz Adeve, a community coordinator at urban sustainability NGO Fundação Tide Setúbal, said that the mapping of areas falling short on socio-educational measures was fundamental in helping to create functional public policies. Speaking at the launch, Adeve commented: “The most vulnerable areas have less visibility, and, in general, aren’t visited by decision-makers.”

Inequalities in the city’s outskirts were also manifested through other factors, including a lack of social, educational and cultural facilities. More than a third of the city’s districts – 37 of 96 – did not have a public library with children’s literature, thereby shortcutting early childhood development.

São Paulo’s very southernmost neighborhood of Marsilac, in addition to having lower numbers of formal jobs, also had the lowest average salaries of anywhere in the city for formal jobs. The district furthermore has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, and no data is available to provide the number of socio-educational centers dedicated to culture or sport.

Orlando Alves dos Santos, a sociology professor at Rio’s Federal University and researcher at the Metropolitan Observatory, told The Brazilian Report that while there are correlations between indicators like teenage pregnancy and a lack of public socio-educational resources, they are not causal relationships. “Certainly, they can reinforce or feed one another, but each has its own explanation,” he said.

However, Santos warned, misunderstanding these correlations can result in the state’s deployment of force, rather than creating and implementing effective social policies. “We can see a worsening of repressive, racist policies from the Brazilian state in these working-class areas,” he said. “This is the effect of the criminalization of poverty: the increase of poverty, and the Brazilian state looking at working-class areas as places of crime.”

São Paulo also has some of the country’s most sought-after real estate. Yet property ownership is a further indicator of wealth concentration, according to Oxfam Brasil’s 2017 report on inequality across Brazil. Approximately 1 percent of property owners – 22,400 people – own a quarter of the city’s real estate.

This adds up to 749 billion BRL, 45 percent of the city’s real estate value. By Oxfam’s calculations, this means that each of these property owners would have real estate worth an average of 34 million BRL. “It is necessary to increase the progressivity of taxes and redistribute the resources collected in the form of public equipment, and services to those who need it most,” said Oxfam Brasil’s campaign coordinator, Rafael Georges.

Oxfam’s research also showed that in 2015, white Brazilians earned, on average, twice the salary of what black Brazilians might take home. With current progress levels, the NGO estimates that black and white Brazilians will only earn equal salaries by 2089.

Last year, Oxfam showed that six people, all white men, own as much wealth as the 100 million people that constitute Brazil’s poorest half. The NGO uses data from Forbes magazine and a report by the bank Credit Suisse. The rise in Brazilian fortunes outperforms billionaires in other countries. While in Brazil that increase was 12.3 percent, it was just 1.2 percent in the rest of the world.

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About the author

Ciara Long

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Ciara focuses on covering human rights, culture, and politics.