RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The last week has been the coolest and rainiest I can remember since… last winter (in Rio’s southern hemisphere). During the long sunny hot summers here, it is easy to forget that something like socks are ever needed, let alone a long sleeve shirt. Some people in Rio claim to like it, the change in the weather and not being covered in a film of sweat all day and night. I’m not so sure.
The sun will come out soon enough though, and then once again we’ll be looking at the other extreme; when the sun shines, it blazes, and when the rains come, it pours. An apt metaphor for many things in the world, and a nice transition into our coverage of the Minha Casa Minha Vida (My Home, My Life) development.
On one hand who can argue with the amazing ability of Brazil’s recent government, under the PAC spending plan, to help provide a stepping stone for the large amounts of Brazilians living in poverty and destitute situations.
Brazilians don’t live in favelas because it’s hip, they do it because there is nowhere else that they can afford to live. These illegal squatting neighborhoods have become so ingrained into society and public consciousness that people forget the situation that created them.
Even now with the roaring economic growth in Brazil, and blossoming of the middle class, inflation is driving a wedge between the lower rungs of the economic ladder, and certainly real estate costs are putting many areas out of reach.
The Minha Casa Minha Vida program is one of the best funded social programs of recent times, the sun is shining. The requirement is families making up to three minimum wage salaries. At first glance it would seem three household salaries is a relatively forgiving threshold for getting a new home, but then we need to look at how low the minimum wage is in relation to living costs.
The minimum wage in Brazil has recently risen by 5.3 percent to R$545 (US$326), paid 13 times for an annual income of R$7,085 (US$4,384). The U.S. federal minimum wage, by comparison, is US$7.25 per hour; or US$15,080 annually. Though unemployment is relatively low, in Rio it is difficult to find anywhere to rent for R$545 per month, let along food and other living expenses.
Despite the high levels of funding and the positive social agenda, the program is drawing criticism, and being subject to corruption, fraud and abuse. When it rains it pours, and the idea that drug gangs (and their source drug and gun sales income) is being replaced by police associated militias (and their source of extortion and rackets income) is heartbreaking.
On the other hand, like the weather, people see things differently, and even in it’s purest form there are many who feel it is not a just or effective means to improve the economy and society.