Inequality and Economic Development in Brazil

Inequality and Economic Development in Brazil

Inequality and Economic Development in Brazil

Inequality and Economic Development in Brazil

Excerpt

Brazil is a continent-sized nation marked by profound contrasts. Some of these are geographic or climactic in nature, and they add to the variety of settings and scenes of which Brazilians are proud. Others are racial or ethnic: Brazil’s population draws on Native American, African, and European roots, and successive waves of immigrants, principally from Asia and Europe, have added to the mix. Such a combination of races and cultures, spread over more than 8 million square kilometers, inevitably makes for enormous diversity.

Yet other contrasts are social in nature and generally less welcome. Living conditions for Brazil’s 170 million people vary dramatically, both across the country’s regions and states and within them. Spatial variations can be marked. Life expectancy at birth ranges from 63.2 years in Alagoas to 71.6 years in Rio Grande do Sul. Adult literacy ranges from under 70 percent in Alagoas and Piauí to almost 95 percent in the Federal District (IBGE 2000). Poverty incidence rates range from 3.1 percent in metropolitan São Paulo to more than 50 percent in the rural northeast. Income disparities in Brazil are significant not only across regions but also between metropolitan areas, nonmetropolitan urban centers, and rural areas. Moreover, inequality across gender and racial groups is also important.

The present Report is motivated by the coming together of three widespread perceptions about inequality, two somewhat newer and one long-standing. The two newer ones are; (i) that inequality may matter for the country’s economic development, and (ii) that public policy can and should do something about it. The old perception, which is well borne out by the facts, is that Brazil occupies a position of very high inequality in the international community. Therefore, this report tries to explain what makes Brazil so unequal and to what extent the interaction of labor

1. Life expectancy at birth statistics are based on the 2000 census and are still treated by the IBGE as preliminary.

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