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Brazil: Still the Inequality Champion


Brazil: Still the Inequality Champion

Brazil’s Human Development Index went up dramatically in
the 1990s. This improvement,
however, occurred through an
extreme concentration of income that widened even more
the gap between
rich and poor Brazilians. No other big
country has such a disparity between haves and have nots.

by:
Rodolfo Espinoza

 

First the good news. Brazil has improved a lot its Municipal Human Development Index as measured by the United Nations.
From 1991 to 2000, 99.87 percent of all Brazilian cities enhanced their MHDI (an index that measures factors such as
education, life expectancy and income) while the number of municipalities classified as having Low Development fell from 995 to 23.

This and the information that follows were disclosed in the just-released study called "New Atlas of Human
Development of Brazil," a partnership effort between the Brazilian government’s Ipea (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica
Aplicada—Institute for Applied Economic Research), the João Pinheiro Foundation and the UNDP (United Nations Development
Program).

In the 1990s, Brazil’s MHDI—this index varies from the lowest 0 to the highest 1—went from 0.709 to 0,764,
marking an improvement for 5.500 of Brazil’s 5507 municipalities. Municipalities with Low Human Development totaled 995 in
1991. By the 2000 they had shrunk to 23. Those with High Human Development went up from 19 to 574.

What’s not to like in all these great numbers? A lot. This significant improvement was done through an extreme
concentration of income that widened even more the gap between rich and poor Brazilians. Brazil, which has the world’s fifth
largest population (170 million) and the
12th largest economy was already known as the nation with the world’s worst income
distribution. With the new numbers, Brazilians keep the title with room to spare.

Carlos Lopes, the head of the UNDP in Brazil indicated that the country ranks sixth-lowest in income distribution
losing only to small nations like Namibia and Swaziland. "One can say that Brazil is the most unequal of all because the other
countries are very small," Lopes said.

In 1991, the lowest MHDI was 0.327 and the highest one 0.847. In 2000, these numbers improved to 0.467 and
0.919 respectively. Income distribution, however, became worse in 66.3 percent of Brazil’s municipalities, or 3,654 cities. It
remained the same in 370 municipalities. In 1,438 cities, the gap between rich and poor narrowed.

UN’s New Atlas (see it at
www.pnud.org.br) presents 126 social indicators and is intended as road map on how to
improve human development in the country.

Black and White


The HDI for blacks improved in a faster pace than the index for whites, but this has to do with the fact that blacks
were well behind and continue there. While black Brazilians had an increase in their HDI from 0.619 to 0.7000, the whites’
index grew from 0.757 to 0.799 in the ten year-period, placing Brazilian whites in a position comparable to the United Arab
Emirate, 46th place among UN’s 173 countries. Blacks in turn have an index comparable to El Salvador, which appears in
105th place in the world’s HDI.

Education (from 0.666 to 0.799) was the main factor to help narrow a little the gap between blacks and whites. In
terms of income, the little change that occurred worked against blacks. Blacks were making 41 percent as much as whites in
1991. Average per capita income for whites in 1991 was R$ 316.70 (US$ 105) while for blacks was R$ 128.68 (US$ 43). By
2000, black Brazilians were making 40 percent as much as whites: R$ 162.84 (US$ 54) against R$ 406.77 (US$ 136).

As for life expectancy, blacks also progressed more than whites from 1991 to 2000. While life expectancy for
Brazilian whites is 71 years, Brazilian blacks shouldn’t expect to live more than 65.7 years. This gap would have been even
bigger weren’t for the 11.9 percent rate increase that blacks had in their life expectancy in that decade while for whites this rate
growth was only 6.7 percent.

Best and Worst

São Caetano, in the Greater São Paulo area known as ABCD, leads the ranking of quality of life in Brazil. The city’s
MHDI reached 0.919, a number that puts the city in the same level as New Zealand. Águas de São Pedro, in the interior of São
Paulo, came in second, being followed by Niterói (Rio de Janeiro state), Florianópolis (Santa Catarina), and Santos (São
Paulo), all in the nation’s south and southeast regions.

The bottom five municipalities can be found in the North and the Northeast. Last in the list is Manari, in the state
of Pernambuco. Following in order as a little better among the worst are Jordão (Acre), Traipu (Alagoas), Guaribas (Piauí)
and Centro do Guilherme (Maranhão).

According to the UN document, the reduction of per capita income in the municipalities cannot be used as a
justification for the increase in inequality. In Jutaí, in the Amazon State, the Brazilian city with the largest gap between rich and
poor, the HDI grew from 0.55 in 1991 to 0.82 in 2000.

Barra da Choça in the state of Bahia and Santa Maria do Herval, in Rio Grande do Sul were listed as the
municipalities with the best income distribution.

According to Ipea director, Ricardo Paes de Barros, growth is very important to reduce the poverty of a country, but
it’s not everything. Paes de Barros says that the lack of growth does not prevent the success of health and education
programs, items that can dramatically affect the Human Development Index of a country, as it happened in 1990s Brazil.

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