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  • Social Indicators by Race, Ethnicity, and Social Background:Brazil, India, the United States
  • John Trumpbour (bio)

Few nations of the world collect national economic and social data broken down by race and ethnicity, and this absence is particularly striking in the vast statistical collections of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Nevertheless, three of the world's five most populous nations—India (1.2 billion), the United States (311 million), and Brazil (192 million), make efforts in this area. The statistical record indicates that income and labor market conditions are significantly stratified by racial and ethnic backgrounds in these nations. While there are examples of racial and ethnic minorities who outperform the dominant majority or traditional power bloc in these democracies, the available statistics paint a grim picture, showing dramatically higher poverty and unemployment levels for those belonging to certain racial and ethnic classifications.

Often at the apex of income inequality in the world, Brazil has watched notable shrinkage during the Lula years in its Gini coefficient, the most widely used measure of disparities of wealth and income. But the stratification remains enormous. Whites still earn double the income of black/brown workers, though for the university-educated black/brown population the salary gap is narrower, approximately 15 percent less than for university-educated whites. Since the late 1970s, the United States has seen remarkable leaps of inequality under both Democrat and Republican regimes, though African Americans had made striking gains between the 1940s and the mid-1970s. India classifies many of its different peoples with categories that sound archaic and offensive in the postmodern and politically correct circles of the contemporary West: "Scheduled Castes" (SC), "Scheduled Tribes" (ST), and "Other Backward Classes" [End Page 323] (OBC). Those unfamiliar with modern India's social landscape will have to go elsewhere to gain a more detailed understanding of these designations. Despite two decades of torrid economic growth, the vast majority of Indians live on less than $2 per day, and the nation is home to more than one-third of the world's poor. Below are several graphic social and labor indicators for Brazil, India, and the United States.

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Figure 1.

Brazil: Income of black and brown workers as a percentage of white male income

Sociologist Edward E. Telles observes that in 1996, "the highest income bracket shown for Brazil ($2,000 or more [per month]) consists of 7.5 percent of the national white population but only 1.5 percent of nonwhites. Thus, whites are about five times as likely as nonwhites to be in the top income bracket in Brazil. By comparison, whites in the United States are only twice as likely as blacks to be in the top end of the income structure. On the other hand, white South Africans are about ten times as likely as blacks and coloreds to be in the highest income bracket." According to PNAD, Brazil's national household survey for 2005, 15.5 percent of whites in Brazil reached the top 10 percent of family income, compared to 4 percent of the black/brown population, numbers that indicate a still large but modestly slimming inequality gap. Reflected in the tables above, there is a growing tendency to conflate black and brown economic and social statistics.

One of the most dramatic statistics in postwar Brazil marked the plunge in black male income from 60 percent of that of whites to 38 percent by 1976, with most of this erosion occurring under the military dictatorship of 1964-1985. Telles explains [End Page 324] that high-income whites flourished during the years of rapid economic growth, while blacks languished: "Contrary to the prediction of the liberal theory of industrialization, the racial gap for men increased mostly during the period of Brazil's so-called economic miracle from 1968 to 1974." In a working paper called "Fact and Myth: Discovering a Racial Problem in Brazil" (Kellogg Institute, Notre Dame, #173, April 1992), Brown University historian Thomas E. Skidmore discusses how research into race was stymied by the military regime: "The politically motivated dismissal of Fernandes, Cardoso, and Ianni from their University of São Paulo teaching posts...


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