Friday, January 15, 2016

Middle vs. Working Class in Brazil

Celia Lessa Kerstenetzky, Christiane Uchoa, and Nelson do Valle Silva, "The Elusive New Middle Class in Brazil," Brazilian Political Science Review 9, 3 (Sept/Dec 2015).


Against the background of the generalized reduction of poverty in the world, and particularly in Brazil, this article intends to gauge the socio-economic profile of Brazilian households that emerged from poverty and have been identified as integrating a "new middle class". Using indicators of standards of living from the 2008-2009 Survey on Family Budgets (POF/IBGE), we found out that, in contrast to what has been assumed on the basis of average income criteria, this social stratum is markedly heterogeneous, most of it being similar in their consumption patterns to the economically vulnerable or outright poor strata. So, we conclude that, from a sociological perspective that demands additional conditions besides income levels to identify social classes, it is a category mistake to call this social stratum a new middle class. We conjecture that this may be consequential in terms of policy priorities and choices.
Very interesting academic article on how the new Brazilian "middle class" is more of a working class.

A first approximation to the data shows that the households in the income bracket that correspond to the so-called "new middle class" amounted, in 2009, to 31.6 million, or 55% of the Brazilian households. The sheer width of the income bracket that has been identified as the "new middle class" is very large, and this suggests that different situations may have been considered uniformly when we look at the income bracket as a whole. 
In fact, a preliminary analysis indicates that this segment is characterized by a strong inequality within it, and the predominance is of dwellings in the lower NMC income segment, where apparently the largest growth occurred in recent years, be it in absolute terms or in percentage points. This lower NMC sub-segment alone accounts for almost one-third of all households in Brazil and about 60% of all NMC households

This is especially important in the context of the country's sharp economic slowdown. Last year there were countless media articles about how the middle class was slipping. Among other things, these authors argue that a very large proportion of that group was really struggling to begin with, and shouldn't be called "middle class" in the first place.


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