Meet The 'C' Class - Brazil's Rising Middle Class, The Hope Of A Nation

They are the children of the poor masses in a nation marked by a stark gap between rich and poor. Now the so-called 'C' Class is the bulging target of Brazil's consumer-driven economy. See how they live -- and what they want.

The 'C' class is committed to education (spyder ball)
The 'C' class is committed to education (spyder ball)
Vaguinaldo Marinheiro

SÃO PAULO - The boss, going through financial problems, tells her daughter not to mistreat the housemaid. The once poor and outcast girl is now the only hope for the family, as she has the chance to marry somebody rich and save them all.

This fictional scene belongs to the famous telenovela Cheias de Charme (Full of Charm) and represents an allegory for the entire Brazilian economy. It depicts the rise of previously impoverished people who've moved up to be part of the new middle class, referred to by the trendy name of the C Class, in a broader classification that goes from A to E. The plotline is one of the first to directly address the emerging phenomenon, as Brazilians grow fascinated by the thoughts and desires of this new striving class.

Here is why: in eight years, from 2003 to 2011, 40 million people rose from D and E classes to C in Brazil, according to Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV), a well-known economics and public administration think tank. In total, C Class now represents 54% of the Brazilian population.

The effects of the change are visible: advertising has changed its focus and now does not restrict itself to showing just the rich and white: companies that before only targeted the super rich AAA Class, can now think of nothing but selling to the new middle class. Sellers are being trained to avoid judging people by their appearance — a common habit in a Brazil with a history of stark divides among the classes.

"Companies realized that it is the C Class that offers space for them to grow," says Celso Grisi, an economics professor at the University of São Paulo and director of Fractal Consult, specialized in market analysis. "And if it continues to grow, it will be possible to reduce costs and raise profits."

According to the president of the industrial union of São Paulo State, Paulo Skaf, industry has benefited more because of the recent long period of cheap dollars, which sent money towards imported goods. "This is a good moment not only for growth, but also specialization," he says.

Aloísio Pinto, vice-president of planning in WMcCann, a major advertising agency, believes that it is necessary to study what these consumers want. "It's clear that excess of luxury, typical in past advertisements, don't work for the new C Class consumer. Just showing a celebrity won't make them buy more, as they are smarter and more skeptical about advertising tricks. They value great life lessons, stories emphasizing the positive results of hard work, and punishment for those with a bad heart."

A good example of it is on air now. There is no famous person, but a mother and her son, simple-looking, taking a bus and an airplane to attend her older son's graduation ceremony from medical school. The story is being used to sell a credit card.

New demands

In 2011, an ad made by Neo Gama for cell phone company Tim was shot in Complexo do Alemão, a Rio slum, and it focused on local inhabitants, something unthinkable a few years ago. The intention was to widen the sales of mobile phones with Internet access and pre-paid connection. Tim is a perfect example of this new attitude, with branches selling in the favela slums of Rio and a sales force working on urban train lines used mostly by poorer classes.

Other companies prefer to preserve their "premium" brands and release different ones to battle for the new consumer. Last year, for instance, Fleury group, specializing in clinical analysis for the extremely wealthy, started a new chain for B and C classes in many states. It is called A+ and already has 30 units in São Paulo alone, and more than 90 around the country. Many units were already part of the group, but had different names -- now the famous Fleury name for the rich comes right below the A+ logo.

President of the group, Omar Hauache, says that this new consumer is getting more and more demanding, and offers a good chance for growth. "These people entered the formal job market and now have access to the health insurances provided by their companies, which represents 70% of our profits. They noticed that they could have access to more quality than in public hospitals." The A+ line registered 15% growth in the first three months of this year, the same as the Fleury products intended for rich customers.

The examples go on. Expensive gym studio Bodytech revived the brand Formula, which now has branches with lower prices. In the same field, Bio Ritmo now has Smart Fit, with no classes, just machines. Chocolate chain stores Kopenhagen has just initiated Brasil Cacau, with products sold at prices 80% less than the mother brand.

Fancy beauty salon chain Jacques Jannine has started the first shop of Basic Beauty, located in Santo Amaro, a neighborhood in São Paulo for C Class residents. The fee for a standard hair cut has fallen from 135 reals ($67.50) to 40 reals ($20).

Classification variety

The federal government has tried to establish official criteria to define who is part of the middle class: families whose monthly incomes per person ranges between 291 to 1,019 reals ($145 to $510). But Márcio Pochmann, prior president of Applied Economics Research Institute (Ipea) (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada), disagrees. He believes that rather than defining middle class by income, it should be viewed as an enlargment of the working class with new formal job positions.

"Most jobs are still underpaid and in areas where having a higher education won't make a difference on wages," Pochmann says. "The working class and the middle class have different ambitions. Who is going to fight for the public health system and schools? The working class. The middle class is more interested in reducing taxes."

For sociologist Amaury de Souza, this discussion is meaningless. The newcomers are under higher risk because, in general, they have less education, property and social capital, that is, fewer relatives and friends to help them in case of need. "We have to think about this group's permanence in the middle class. We must analyze the risk of their return to poorer classes," de Souza says. "This new middle class is ambitious and fond of entrepreneurship. They depend less on the State. A good signal is that they are aware of the importance of education and are investing in it."

Claudete Duarte, 24, claims to be happy to be part of the new middle class. She was looking at shop windows in Mais Shopping Largo 13, a new mall founded on May in São Paulo for C Class. Shops are small (from 12 to 25 square meters) and depend on very simple decoration.

The dreams of the new middle class are all here. A kiosk sells apartments made by MRV, specialized on low-costing lodging. Another one offers leaflets for University Paulista (Unip), a major educational group with over 200,000 students.

With parents who did not finish elementary school, Claudete studies management in Uninove, a private university whose campus was founded in 2008 in Santo Amaro. She says her life has largely improved in the last years -- and now expects more. "I know what it is to be poor, very poor, and I hope I will be able to see how it is to be rich," she says. "It doesn't need to be very rich, just a little rich is O.K. That state where you don't need to think much about money, you know?"

The entire Brazilian economy is rooting for her to get there.

Read the original article in Portuguese

Photo - spyderball

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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