Brazil’s crisis dragged 4.5 million into extreme poverty

and . Nov 07, 2019
extreme poverty brazil

In the week of the federal government announcing a series of measures to overhaul the Brazilian state, figures from the country’s institute of geography and statistics (IBGE) show a worrying trend in the number of citizens living in extreme poverty across Brazil. Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2014, an extra 4.5 million Brazilians have fallen below the poverty line, taking the total population in these conditions up to 13.5 million.

</p> <p>The World Bank defines the line of extreme poverty as when people live on less than USD 1.90 per day—translating into roughly BRL 145 per month. The number of people in Brazil earning less than this amount exceeds the entire population of countries such as Bolivia, Belgium, and Tunisia, and is over two times the total inhabitants of Denmark. The minimum monthly wage in the country for 2019 stands at BRL 998.</p> <h2>Breaking down the numbers</h2> <p>From the chart below, we can see that after a significant decrease in poverty in 2014, the number of impoverished Brazilians began rising once more as the country struggled with its deepest economic crisis on record. Between 2015 and 2016, over two million people fell below the poverty line as the recession hit hardest. Figures are now beginning to stabilize as Brazil slowly tries to recover.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/885409"></div><script src=""></script> <p>Regional imbalances in Brazil&#8217;s poverty figures are stark, with IBGE showing that over 50 percent of those in extreme poverty live in the country&#8217;s Northeast region, despite that area making up only 27 percent of the entire population. The opposite trend is found in the Southeast, which is home to 42 percent of Brazil&#8217;s inhabitants but makes up only 20 percent of those in extreme poverty.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/886893"></div><script src=""></script> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/886933"></div><script src=""></script> <p>Furthermore, we see that there are other demographic trends beyond region to define Brazil&#8217;s extremely impoverished population. The typical individual living below the poverty line is unsurprisingly poorly educated and unemployed, but IBGE figures show that there is a predominance of non-white Brazilians among the country&#8217;s neediest population. Almost three-quarters of those in extreme poverty are either black or <em>pardo</em> (multiracial), disproportionate to their overall share of just above 50 percent of the general Brazilian population.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/886884"></div><script src=""></script> <p>Despite millions more Brazilians finding themselves in desperate situations since the recession, the country&#8217;s economic discourse has signaled very few measures toward mitigating this problem. While Brazil&#8217;s Constitution dictates that the country must act as a welfare state for its citizens, the current government&#8217;s moves are in the direction of reducing this apparatus as much as possible, focusing purely on the bottom line and relieving government accounts at the federal, state, and municipal level.</p> <h2>Ending extreme poverty in Brazil</h2> <p>The IBGE study reckons that assistance of BRL 12 billion a year would suffice to eradicate this extreme level of poverty in Brazil. With 13.5 million people in this situation, this translates into welfare distribution of just BRL 76 per month for each impoverished Brazilian.</p> <p>Beyond the Bolsa Família cash transfer program, one of the main mechanisms of welfare distribution in Brazil is the so-called Continuous Payment Benefit, or BPC. With the value of one minimum wage, it is paid to all citizens over 65 who prove they are unable to sustain themselves financially. In early proposals for the country&#8217;s pension reform, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes included a provision which vastly reduced the payment of this benefit, changes which were deemed to be &#8220;anti-poor&#8221; and quickly stricken from the proposal.</p> <p>Now, the latest measures from the Economy Ministry include one provision to decouple BPC payments from the minimum wage, which would, in theory, allow the government to reduce the amount spent on these needy Brazilians and potentially thrust even more citizens into extreme poverty.

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

Marcelo Soares

Marcelo Soares is a Brazilian journalist specializing in data journalism and reader engagement.

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