Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Gap in the Brazilian Middle Class

I made a mistake the other day. I left out the bill for my kids' school when my maid was here. Each month I make a point of having it put away when she comes.

Why? I'm freaking embarrassed by it. While my boys go to a mid-level private school, it still costs a small fortune. I pay more to their school each month than my maid makes. Significantly more.

Since I know her general rate, I did the math. In one months she makes a little more than what I pay for 1 kid.  In what world is that fair?

And you know what, I don't know what I can do about it. We already pay her a very competitive rate for twice a week and I can't afford to pay her anymore.  Just keeping up our middle class lifestyle is taking a lot of money. I feel like the school alone is sucking us dry.

This is why I laugh at all the reports of Brazil's increasing middle class. There is such a large range that it may as well be 3 or 4 different classes.

I know she isn't in this "new" middle class, she has said that she has some friends who are. These friends now have the month to put some pretty plaster up on the outside of their place to cover the bricks.

I do think that Brazil deserves a pat on the back for the process that they have made. Even I can see adifference in the small chunk of time I've lived here. But this need for progress is far from over! I only hope they can keep up the pace.


  1. Rachel,

    You are absolutely correct, I agree, there are several levels of middle class.
    Perhaps 3, maybe more, lower middle class, medium middle class and upper middle class, maybe even more now with the uprising of the poor in Brazil having access to cars, better homes and better quality of life.


  2. It's rough. I mean, we hold onto our position with our teeth. Then again, Brazilians have a wonderful way of making this process less stressful and more fun. Worrying about money? Yes, but let's all put in a little and have a bbq. That'll make it a good Saturday. :)

  3. You got it! You have definitely become a PHD when it comes to Brazil ;)

  4. So why exactly do you feel bad about having left your PERSONAL paperwork out in the open in YOUR home? If she saw it, oh well. Did she comment on it? Do you know for a fact that she even looked at or read it? And if she did, why should YOU feel bad about YOUR PERSONAL BUSINESS? She has made her path in life the same as you have. Hers may not be in the same "bracket" as yours, but that's not your fault nor responsibility. You have employed her. That's the most you can do for her...you're providing her with a steady income. I don't have a ton of money but I'm not crying over it and I'm certainly not expecting some rich fat cat to feel bad for me either. It's called life. I know what I have and what I don't have and so if there's something that I want then I make sure I work extra hard to get it. That's how everybody should handle their life, but somewhere along the way people have lost that ethic and now just play the victim role and look for someone else to pick them up. If the maid feels bad about her station in life, then it's up to HER to change it...not you.

  5. Hold on there Chris. Class mobility is not as simple as you describe - especially here, where education disparities are ENORMOUS and class discrimination among employers is rampant.

    My guess is that Rachel's maid did not "make her path" - she was born into it. And getting on a different path requires a lot more than her grabbing her boot straps and working harder. That's the oldest myth in the book!

    I would add two things - one is that women who are maids often have a bi-focal view of the "struggles" expressed by their employers. One offers quiet empathy for their employer's relatively difficult situation, and the other scoffs at the very idea that someone would see these conditions as difficult. I would recommend reading “Laughter Out of Place; Race, Class, Violence and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown”, by Donna M. Goldstein for more insight.

    The other thing is that if you are paying a good wage, offering the 13th salary and perhaps contributing to a vacation bonus (relative to the days/week the person works) you are foing your part. The law allows that if you hire an empregada for two days/week or less you are not obligated to pay these extra costs -- but if you wish to be fair, pay them. For your maid, piecing togther three households does not close the gap. The value of a full time job is much larger than the sum of three part-time.

  6. Oh, and did you see the link over at Expat American Living in Brazil? More good info.


  7. Jim, thanks for the link! Great info!

    Chris, that is a bit harsh. The reality here is very different. What you consider not having money is probably what my maid would consider having a decent amount.

    And I think Jim's explanation of things is right on. She was born into a family with 20 children in the Northeast of Brazil. Trust me, there was no college fund.

    I know she was in my house with my things because I hired her. Regardless, I don't believe in showing off. I don't feel I have a lot of money but I know she must feel that way. While we each have our own crosses to bear, it's not fair to taunt a person. I feel it's in good taste to keep our income and spending information put away so to not cause hard feelings.

    As for payment, we do give her the traditional Christmas bonus that we are not legally required to do so. I am totally flexible with her schedule should she need to work something out during the week. We also pay her a daily wage traditional to once a week as opposed to twice. Some maids give discounts. She is a single Mother and needs all the money she can get.

    If I ever have the extra cash and can afford a full time (although I don't know if I can handle the added person in my space thing) I would choose to hire her!