Brazil’s billion-dollar public service industry

. Sep 09, 2020
Brazil's million-dollar public service industry

This is Part 2 of The Brazilian Report’s special series on the Jair Bolsonaro administration’s proposal to reform public service in Brazil. Read Part 1Part 3, and Part 4.


At the same time the government sent a proposal to reform civil service in the country by slashing spending on salaries and pensions, it also lifted an ordinance restricting the recruitment of new servants — potentially greenlighting thousands of hires. While the move suggests a lack of coordination in the government, in at least one sector it is all smiles after the change: the multi-millionaire civil service examination industry.

A 2008 survey by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) indicated that 43 percent of middle-class Brazilians dreamed of becoming a civil servant — a job that for decades brought with it prestige and, more importantly, higher salaries, and job stability that surpassed anything in the private sector. Before the 1988 Constitution, that dream could be achieved through making the right connections — but Brazil’s Magna Carta made it mandatory that public institutions recruit servants through standardized tests.

As competition grew more intense, an entire industry has flourished around it.

During its heyday, back in 2013, it grossed an estimated BRL 1 billion (USD 189 million). Preparatory courses (known as <em>cursinhos</em>), editing houses, blogs, and even specialized press stands began popping up across the country —&nbsp;offering content carefully catered to the so-called <em>concurseiros</em> — civil service exam candidates. From motivational lectures, to tips on how to deduce the right answer, to the raw knowledge demanded by the examinations, everything a <em>concurseiro</em> must learn —&nbsp;or memorize — is available on the market.</p> <p>&#8220;Being approved has nothing to do with intellectual capacity, but rather with discipline and training,&#8221; a professor in one such establishment told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>Indeed, preparation for examinations —&nbsp;especially for the most-coveted positions —&nbsp;can be brutal. Students pull <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2018/11/05/2018-enem-exam/">all-nighter study sessions</a>, worry about what they are eating, how much they are sleeping … the whole nine yards. To the point that being a <em>concurseiro</em> is almost considered a profession in itself.</p> <h2>A city that lives for civil service examinations</h2> <p>In Brasília, a city created from scratch in the 1950s to house the federal public administration, civil service is <em>the</em> engine of the capital&#8217;s economy. During the Workers&#8217; Party era (2003-2016), civil servants&#8217; salaries went up and the number of hirings expanded like never before, Brasília housed about 350,000 <em>concurseiros.</em></p> <p>While many of them studied at home at their own devices, the majority used to attend preparatory courses — where teachers were true celebrities with five-digit monthly salaries.</p> <p>While <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2019/11/18/true-situation-brazil-public-service-charts-psl-bolsonaro/">12 percent of the total Brazilian workforce is in the public service</a>, that rate jumps to 21 percent in Brasília. According to a World Bank study, Brazil&#8217;s federal-level servants earn, on average, 96 percent more than private workers — which reflects on the capital&#8217;s human development index.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/945903" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/945903/embed" aria-label=""><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>According to the most recent official data, Lago Sul — the richest neighborhood of the capital, with mansions looking onto the Paranoá Lake — is home to business owners, politicians, judges, and many authorities. The area has an average per capita income of BRL 91,848 (USD 17,274) per annum, or <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/04/21/brasilia-turns-60-utopia-became-monument-inequality/">5.5 times higher than the national average</a>.</p> <p>Since 2014, however, when the Brazilian economy took a nosedive, that opulence faded. Government hirings were cut year after year, and the number of people who could dedicate their entire time and money to preparing for the demanding civil service examination was drastically reduced.&nbsp;</p> <p>José Wilson Granjeiro’s trajectory, the highest-profile entrepreneur in the business, is a testament to that. Once a mogul with multiple schools, he was forced to downsize after a 40-percent drop in student enrollment. In 2014, <a href="https://jornaldebrasilia.com.br/cidades/cursinhos-para-concurso-expoem-crise-no-ramo/">70 percent of teachers</a> in one unit managed by his company were terminated.</p> <p>In that same year, Mr. Granjeiro would <a href="http://meucongressonacional.com/eleicoes2014/candidato/201470000000450">run for Congress</a>, trusting that his stardom as the &#8220;examination guru&#8221; would be enough. It wasn&#8217;t.</p> <h2>Inequalities within Brazil&#8217;s public service</h2> <p>Over the past 20 years, Brazil has seen an increase in the number municipal-level servants, while the state and federal employment levels remained stable. According to Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea), the trend is the result of a decentralization process, with municipalities being given more responsibilities over public policies.</p> <p>Despite the widespread notion that civil servants earn big money, this isn’t case at all. As a matter of fact, the world of Brazil&#8217;s public service is as unequal as the country itself.</p> <p>The wage gap between private workers and state- or municipal-level servants is lower than the world average. Around half of municipal public servants earn only around BRL 2,000 (or two times the minimum wage). The major discrepancy, however, lies in the difference between the average salary or private workers and federal servants (96 percent).&nbsp;</p> <p>The highest wages are in the Justice system — with starting salaries of BRL 23,000.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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