Unemployment & Poverty in Brazil

Although there is considerable literature on conditions of unemployment and poverty in many modernized countries, there is a penuriously small amount on how these issues are addressed in developing countries. In Brazil, a good portion of the available literature is gathered by agencies such as the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica (IBGE), Brazilian Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA), the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD), Instituto de Estudos do Trabalho e SociedadeRio de Janeiro (IETS); also, UNESCO, the US State Department, the World Bank, the International Labor Organization, and a bevy of research analysts. Overall, these studies dramatically point toward the need for Brazil to deal immediately and effectively with high incidences of unemployment, inequality in educational distribution, discrimination toward women in the labor force, and issues concerning the impact of employment upon family responsibilities.

Among organizations conducting research in this area, there is a growing consensus about how these factors correlate with inequality and poverty and the necessity for governmental initiatives to confront these problems. Similarly, it is argued that the poor quality of jobs and the instability of jobs available to the poor and less educated will not be resolved simply by the country’s economic growth. These problems will require governmental initiatives that are specific and well focused. Moreover, there is concern that social spending in Brazil is inefficient – that is, much more could be done with the resources that are already available. Last, it is argued that well conceived policies that address social inequality and poverty should have precedence in domestic policy making.

When we consider how education, based on age and gender, directly impacts a person’s ability to find employment and earn wages, we can find a series of low performing statistics. First, it should be mentioned that the illiteracy rate in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century was 50% of the population, however this rate has been steadily decreasing at a rate of 7.5% per decade. Despite this, statistics show that about 10% of the population has no education; 40% has only four years of education; and 30% has only eight years of education. With regard to the returns on human capital based on wages and education, we find that men, from the age of 25-50, participate in the work force at a rate of 90%. Also, female participation in the work force increases at a rate of 15% per decade. As a result, on average, the groups with less education tend to work more years of their life than the groups with a higher level of education. Of course, these statistics tend to vary according to different regions within Brazil.


There is also significant evidence indicating that insufficient labor income and limited access to employment are primary factors of inequality and poverty in Brazil. There are several studies showing that there has been a reduction of worker’s real earnings for several years. Meanwhile, others suggest that high-capital intensive sectors such as mining and natural resources that use labor saving technologies have actually slowed the growth of productive employment and in many cases caused significant job expulsion. In general, however, all of these studies agree that the distributional impacts of these factors are some of the most important underlying causes of the high incidence of poverty.

In addition, insufficient labor income is a primary factor in the massive entry of women into the labor market. More important, women seeking employment outside of the home contribute to certain socio-cultural changes within the society such as those related to the role of gender and changes in population growth. Data shows that a large number of these women are single women, wives or female family heads that are driven to seek employment as the main financial supporters of a family. Equally important, there is data to support the argument that women are occupying job positions that were previously held by men, women accept lower salaries, and women are willing to work under inferior working conditions. Other studies suggest that one of the greatest consequences of this trend is the increase in irregular occupations without the protection of labor legislation. Thus, many women are exposed to a more precarious occupational insertion in the labor market.

Photo Courtesy: Neil Turner

Finally, when we turn our attention to how family responsibilities impact employment, we must consider the significance of different family types. Although there was a significant reduction in birth and fertility rates during the 1980s and 1990s, data shows that the participation rate among single women with dependent children and relatives living in the household was high. First, it shows that the highest participation of women in the workforce is among single women without children. In fact, it appears that the absence of family pressure actually acts as an incentive for women to work. Second, female, single-parent family heads with at least one dependent child present the next highest participation rate and is higher than that of married women with or without relatives living in the home. Furthermore, the position of wives with spouses with or without other relatives living in the home is the least favorable group for entry into the labor market. Indeed, the presence of children effects the work opportunities for women and presents serious problems of reconciliation between work and care for children. This difficulty increases for women who have dependent children without the aid of relatives living in the household or in close proximity. It is also noteworthy to mention that many female, single-parent family heads with at least one dependent child and without relatives in the home usually work without signed work cards and as domestic maids.

Sources: Sorj, B., Fontes, A., Carusi, D., & Quintaes, Giovanni. (2004). Conditions of Work and Employment Programme: Reconciling work and family: Issues and policies in Brazil; Klaveren, M., Tijden, K., Hughie-Williams, M., & Martin., N. R. (2009). An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Brazil . University of Amsterdam /Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies. Amsterdam, Netherlands: AIAS’; Barros, Ricardo Paes de. (2001). A Dynamic Analysis of Household Decision-Making: The Brazilian Case. Inter-American Development Bank, Latin American Research Network.

For more information see: Neil Turner. (2012). Unemployment and Poverty in Brazil. Ethnology/Cultural Anthropology. Grin Publishing, Munich. http://www.grin.com

4 thoughts on “Unemployment & Poverty in Brazil

  1. Hello! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a outstanding job!


  2. I precisely had to say thanks once more. I’m not certain what I would’ve followed without the ways discussed by you concerning my theme. It was actually a real traumatic issue in my opinion, nevertheless noticing your well-written tactic you processed the issue made me to weep over delight. Now i’m grateful for your service and as well , believe you are aware of a great job that you are providing instructing the others with the aid of your webblog. Most likely you haven’t got to know all of us.


    1. Please forgive me for taking so long to respond to your comments. But, as you can imagine, I have been busy writing. Personally, I want to say that comments like yours are what gives true value – that is, really true value to my work and more than that – it moves my heart. Thank you and continue to read. As I promise to continue to present the best that I can produce…tchau…Neil Turner.


Comments are closed.