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People and Society, Social Issues

overt racism, social segregation, average head, inequality of opportunity, urban problems

Brazilian society displays marked inequity between the city and the country, between regions, and between social classes. The gap between rich and poor is among the most substantial in the world. In 1995 the richest 20 percent of the population received 63 percent of the nation’s income, while the poorest 50 percent earned only 12 percent. Besides access to wealth, this inequality is also reflected in access to education, medical care, and services such as water supply, sewerage, and electricity.

Despite the rich resources, rapid economic development, and the overall size of Brazil’s economy, the nation has major problems with poverty, hunger, disease, and inadequate services. In the cities, overcrowding compounds these problems. Rapid urbanization has brought people to the cities at a rate that has outpaced the growth of the job market and the urban services that they need to survive comfortably. Many of the larger cities have extensive slums. Homelessness—particularly among children and young teens whose families cannot support them—constitutes another major problem.

Despite these urban problems, poverty and lack of access to clean water, electricity, health care, and schooling may be more acute in the countryside. For example, 95 percent of urban dwellers have access to safe drinking water as opposed to just 53 percent in the countryside. Such distinctions are also evident between regions. The average head of a household in the Northeast is likely to earn only half as much as a counterpart in the Southeast. He is twice as likely to be illiterate, and his life expectancy is ten years lower. A key challenge for the government remains the inequality of opportunity among citizens.

Among other social issues, overt racism is rare, although there is some evidence of a social segregation in which the poor are more likely to be black or of mixed race. Organized crime has links to gambling and drugs, and the favelas often serve as bases for drug dealers. Street crime remains a problem in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

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