Inequality in Brazil: the iPhone and the shop-worker

Brazilian girls taking a selfie on an iPhone during Carnaval 2014

An Apple iPhone 5 in Brazil costs R$2,800 new. That’s US$1,250 or £743. It’s also three times the average monthly salary of a low-skilled worker in Brazil.

A sales associate in a retail store in Brazil working from 8am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday, makes R$1000 a month (US$445, or £265). This is a common wage in Brazil for all low-skilled jobs and services. High-skilled jobs fare little better; the average wage for a primary school-teacher in Sao Paulo – one of the most expensive cities on earth – was recorded as R$1900 a month in 2013

The salary for Brazilian sales-associate works out as approximately R$4 an hour, or less than two dollars an hour.

When a rich kid’s toy phone costs three times what a full-time salesperson (or bus-conductor, restaurant-worker, or garbage-man) makes in a month, the disparity between the rich and poor in Brazil is clear.

An unlocked iPhone in the UK costs £530. By the same logic the average wage of a shopworker in the UK would be £175 a month, working full-time. The income disparity in Brazil is obscene.

The iPhone is a slight outlier given its aspirational value and its scarcity in Brazil, but it’s the same situation for cars, washing-machines, TVs, clothes and pretty much any consumer goods. Prices are hugely inflated and wages are tragically low for the vast majority of Brazilians.

The reason so many Brazilians protest when bus prices go up a few cents is because – of the R$40 they might take home in a day, R$12 will immediately go on taking an old, unreliable bus to and from work.

An extra 50 cents every day for a Brazilian on a few dollars a day makes a big difference over the year.


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