Behind Brazil's low unemployment, a quest for education

Tue Apr 15, 2014 12:58pm EDT
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By Silvio Cascione

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's growing prosperity is allowing teenagers to stay in school for longer instead of searching for jobs to support their families, boosting the country's long-term prospects but also causing some economic headaches.

The shift helps explain one of the biggest debates among economists who follow Brazil - why unemployment remains at record lows of about 5 percent despite slow economic growth.

A Reuters analysis of unemployment data found that the share of working-age people "not willing to work" in Brazil's six major cities has jumped by 6 percentage points to 39 percent since 2002.

That is equivalent to about 2.5 million people who have opted out of the labor force. By comparison, roughly the same number of Brazilians are classified as unemployed.

The case of Mariane Soares, 18, helps explain the shift.

Her mother, a teacher, was one of six siblings - which used to be typical in Brazil. Instead of following her dream of studying at the University of Brasilia (UNB), one of the country's most prestigious public universities, she took a job right out of high school to pay her bills.

Soares, by contrast, is an only child, and received the full attention and financial support of her parents, common in today's Brazil. She is currently studying to take the UNB's admission exam, hoping to become a political scientist.

"Today, these parents that had to work early say: Now that I can help you, I'll definitely do that," Soares told Reuters during a recent conversation with 11 other students aged between 17 and 26, many of whom had similar stories.   Continued...

(Front row to back, L-R) Brazilian students Sara Morais, Claudio Thalles, Mariana Soares, Maria Clara, Monalisa Feitosa and Maria Laura pose for a photo inside the study hall of a college preparatory school in Brasilia, April 14, 2014. REUTERS/Joedson Alves