Unemployment and underemployment are highly instrumental in perpetuating poverty. With its rapid growth, Brazil has seen its unemployment rate consistently decreasing over the last decade, despite the economic crisis. However, many people living in poverty remain formally unemployed and youth unemployment is at 15.6% (2012). For young people to fully benefit from and participate in Brazil’s economic growth they must be able to access diverse employment opportunities. Many factors can create barriers to this process such as lack of education, insecure living conditions, inability to access resources and engagement in illegal employment.
There are millions of Brazilians who are ‘informally’ employed. Informal employment is a complex issue, especially in urban contexts. Undoubtedly employment, formal or otherwise, provides benefits, both economically and socially. Informal work can constitute a profitable entrepreneurial endeavour. However, in many cases informal employment is contributing to social and economic exclusion – with lower earnings, high risk unregulated working environments, socially stigmatised work (such as waste picking) and fear of forms of federal and public control.
Education and Employment
Educational inequalities have a significant effect on employment opportunities. Education is rewarded in the labour market and exclusion from education greatly increases the risk of exclusion from formal legitimate employment. The unemployed miss out on economic and social benefits provided by formal employment such as the Brazilian Labour and Social Security Booklet (Carteira de Trabalho e Previdência Social) which gives access to labour related benefits including unemployment insurance and social protection.
In 2006, there were 19 million 15-24 year olds who had not completed primary education and approximately 3 million of them were non-literate. Illiteracy perpetuates social, political and economic exclusion, which in turn sustains inequality and poverty. State intervention to combat this through Brasil Alfabetizado, a scheme promoting educational inclusion by providing literacy teaching for those over 15, has made a significant impact. The programme has now been accessed by 9.9 million young people.
For those of a school age, employment itself can be a barrier to education. Recent studies suggest there are over 4 million school-aged children (5 to 17 years old) working in Brazil. Whilst schooling and employment are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as children can work part-time and still attend school, in many cases employment decreases the likelihood of children being in education.
Participation in many illegal industries including drug trafficking, child prostitution, piracy, arms trading and human trafficking are prominent in Brazil’s urban areas. In particular, the narcotics trade offers a structured, well-organised business enterprise, operating by basic market principles – and with great success. The demand for narcotics within Brazil, specifically cocaine, has further swelled with economic growth. In 2011, South America’s cocaine industry generated six times Coca-Cola’s global pre-tax profit.
The practices of the narcotics industry are aligned with the economic interests of the groups which oversee the trade. Those who benefit do so at the expense of the economically marginalised who suffer direct consequences. These include decreased personal and social security from increased crime and the squeeze on public health services with increased drug related health issues.
Education is not a prerequisite for this industry and employment is available to children from a young age. Consequently, those working in drug trafficking are often from the lowest income families with below average education levels. As well as providing an income, the industry offers a form of empowerment, acceptance in trafficking networks and safety from rivals and the police.
Children constitute valuable human capital within these networks due to their legal status. A child can enter the industry as a “watchman”, then move up the ranks to a “dealer” role, which can provide three-fold their initial income (up to almost £1000 per month) and the prospect of further promotion and potential power and fame. This is a highly attractive situation given that with or without this employment the challenges of urban poverty persist and the barriers to alternative, legal employment remain. A lack of positive future work prospects creates the conditions for illegal and criminal alternatives to flourish.
Furthermore, the drug industry fast emerges as the only visible option for those already involved as they become unsafe outside of the community. Rival groups and police are security threats to those involved in the industry and therefore they must stay close to their allies. The longer a child/ young person spends in the industry, the greater the difficulty to freely exist beyond the confines of the community, reinforcing and normalising their exclusion from wider society.
The arms trade and narcotics industry are closely connected in Brazil. As the multi-billion dollar drugs industry is outside of institutional control, arms provide the guarantee and insurance of completing and continuing trafficking schemes. An added dimension of complexity is the interaction of legal security networks within this illegal industry. The high murder rates in many of Brazil’s poorer urban slum areas are strongly associated with the availability and accessibility of arms and drugs.
In the drugs trade violence is a common mechanism for protection, enforcement and punishment, meaning that participation in the industry significantly increases the risk of involvement in violent encounters, both as perpetrator and victim. As violent acts (including murder) in poor areas are scarcely thoroughly investigated, violence continues to be an operative tool in the drugs industry.
The challenges of entering the competitive formal labour market for the young are argued to be a further contributing factor to the prominence of narcotics, arms and violence. Whilst there may be some legal alternatives for those who are considered “unskilled”, “uneducated” and “unfit” for most of the opportunities in the labour market, these often entail very low wages for long hours of difficult, hazardous work. Not only does this offer little competition for the lucrative drugs trade, but it is unacceptable to many on the grounds of social justice and economic exploitation.