It is Thursday at the end of the morning and this fresh produce market on a street in Santo Amaro, a lower-middle-class neighborhood of São Paulo, is almost deserted because of a phenomenon that Brazil did not experience a quarter of a century ago: inflation that exceeds two digits. And it still has not managed to contain. The rise in prices that runs through the post-pandemic world is fully felt here. It drives away customers, forces the closure of jobs and, in a perverse effect, increases the socioeconomic inequality that corrodes this country. Inflation hits the stomachs of poor Brazilians harder than the pockets of the rich. A client here and another there buy some fruit or vegetables while a third woman discreetly collects what she considers profitable among the goods discarded by the shopkeepers.
Dayane Ferreira, 38, was a financial analyst until the pandemic put her out of work, so you know for a while about prices and inflation. After finishing the purchase and leaning on the girl’s cart, she estimates that in this market the prices of many products have risen by 30-40%. Your recipe for balancing the accounts includes the following ingredients. One, buy less of the products that have exploded. “Before we paid a half kilo of coffee at 9-10 reais, now it is 17; the price of tomatoes is double ”, he details. Two, look for all kinds of deals and go where they are. Three, “We don’t waste anything. We only buy what we are going to eat ”. Looking for work but so far without success. Therefore, not even think about traveling or any other luxury that could be afforded before.
With monthly increases during the last 12 months, Brazil accumulates an inflation of 10.7%, a figure that obviously pales before Venezuela or Argentina but is very high for a country that has kept prices remarkably stable in the last two decades after the Plan. Real of 1995, which managed to eliminate hyperinflation.
But that average figure hides the very unequal impact among the privileged, the dispossessed, and all who remain in their midst. For the poorest (those who earn less than 1,800 reais, or 285 euros), the rise in prices is 11.39%, as detailed by María Andreia Lameira in the latest situation report from the Ipea Institute. On the other hand, for those who head the table with more than 2,700 euros per month, it is two points lower, 9.32%.
For the poorest, increases in electricity, gas, rent, potatoes, coffee or sugar hit them like a supersonic missile, leading to food insecurity. Every day, 19 million Brazilians wake up not knowing how they are going to get or if they are going to get the next meal. The workers have lost 10% of their income.
By contrast, increases in essentials make little dent in the budgets of the wealthy. The increases that hurt them the most are those of gasoline, flights (now that they are planning vacations, New Year’s Eve parties or even Carnival) and Uber-type transport, according to the aforementioned Ipea report. The super-luxury market has enjoyed excellent health during the pandemic because its clientele had to spend in Brazil what they would have invested during trips abroad.
Those who knew the times of the hyperinflation of the eighties do not forget them. Mrs. Rosa Lopes Masomoto, who is 77 years old and worked in a bank until she retired, is one of them. “They were terrible, worse than today. Purchasing power was small, we had to get to the market running before prices changed. It was crazy, the increases were galloping, he remembers while looking for fresh vegetables. The generous pensions that the most favored Brazilians receive have cushioned for them a blow that impacts, as always, disproportionately on the millions who seek life in the informal market. Like those old women who stand on street corners to sell homemade sweets.
Or the protagonists of one of the scenes that has most horrified the citizens of this country, proud of having left the world map of hunger a few years ago. The callers bone tails, those that wait in line to receive the bones and remains to kill hunger.
In millions of families, such as that of businesswoman Jessica Batista, 30, the pandemic and the consequent collapse in income has forced them to change their diet. He says that at home they consume “more white meat and less red” since the pandemic cut income in half. More chicken and more pork.
Arnaldo Silva, 59 years old and 40 in the butcher trade, affirms that never in his life had he seen a kilo of sirloin at 178 reais (almost 32 dollars). It is the product that has exploded the most. Some of the clients have gone to cheaper cuts, others have disappeared. By midmorning his store is empty. He says that home deliveries are what has kept them safe.
The Santo Amaro street market is entering a dangerous circle, explains 53-year-old greengrocer Rogerio Fernández. With no customers, the meat and fish stalls closed like one of the fruit stalls, another one for bananas, one for fried foods … “It’s eleven o’clock and look at this,” he says, pointing to the void left by the other shopkeepers. . “And nothing, everyone to eat, and no one comes here.” Their fear is that as the supply dwindles, the clientele will stop shopping there and will doom those who still can.
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