Monday, October 23, 2017

"In Brazil, Class C now stands for 'crisis'"/ "I'm not cut out for this"

Sept. 24, 2016 "In Brazil, Class C now stands for 'crisis'": I found this article by Stephanie Nolen in the Globe and Mail today:

Families that climbed out of poverty with government help over the past decade are today drowning in debt and desperation

In 2009, Flavia Fernandes and her family moved from a rented apartment in a poor and violent neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro to a small house they bought in a coastal suburb. It was a physical move, and much more than that: Furnishing a home of their own, something that once seemed unimaginable to her working-poor parents, they were part of a huge change in Brazil.

In the course of a decade-long economic boom, more than 30 million Brazilians moved out of poverty, and it was families such as Ms. Fernandes’s who saw the biggest shift in their lives.

They benefited from the rise in wages (the minimum wage, which her parents earned as a domestic worker and a bus ticket taker, rose 77 per cent in real terms over the past 13 years) under the left-wing Workers’ Party government. There was new access to credit, such as the government-backed mortgage that allowed them to buy their house with no down payment.

Ms. Fernandes, now 29, won entrance to a prestigious state university, which charges no tuition, to study biology and education – the first person in her family to pursue higher education, confident that she could delay working because of the opportunities that awaited her.

But the Brazilian boom sputtered to a rude halt midway through 2014: Brazil’s gross domestic product contracted by 3.8 per cent last year and is expected to finish this year with a decline of an additional 3.2 per cent.

Nearly 12 per cent of the work force is unemployed, and there is pervasive unease and uncertainty about the future, which was little relieved by the impeachment of the president earlier this month.

The crisis, as it is simply called here, has had an impact across all of Brazil, but it is felt most keenly in Class C, as families such as the Fernandeses are known here (monthly household income of $425 to $1,400).

Brazil’s wealthy elite had assets to shield them when the recession hit, says Renato Meireilles, founder of a demographic research firm focused on Class C called Instituto Locomotiva.

That’s why upscale restaurants still have lineups on weeknights and flights to Miami on the “Disney Shuttle” are still full. In fact, the highest-paid group saw their income rise 2.4 per cent this past June, compared with 2015.

The poorest, predictably, have been hit hard: Those who earn less than the monthly minimum wage of about $270 (informal workers, such as street sellers) saw a 9-per-cent decline in their income on average in June compared with the same month last year, according to the latest data from the Institute for Applied Economic Research. They struggle to continue to pay for basic necessities.

But it is Class C families who saw the most dramatic change in their standard of living since the good years: They have no asset cushion, and were most likely to work in the manufacturing, construction, retail and service sectors, where the bulk of jobs have been lost.

Many are reeling both under the struggle of day-to-day survival and the emotional impact of watching the startlingly fast erosion of the gains they made.

More than 50 per cent have taken on a second source of income, either a formal job, when they can be found, or informal work, such as selling snacks or occasional driving for Uber.

Twelve per cent of families with children in private school shifted them to the lower-quality public system this year; Amabile Pacios, director of the National Federation of Private Schools, says virtually all of those are Class C families who had put their children into lower-end private schools, “something that was a dream and a first priority for all the people in this group when they had more income.”

The same shift is happening in health care: In the year from March, 2015, 1.3 million Brazilians cancelled their private health insurance, according to the National Health Insurance Agency, and turned to using the underresourced public system, either because they lost their coverage when they lost their jobs or because they can no longer afford payments for a private plan.

Caixa Econômica, the main lender to Class C, says the number of foreclosures by the bank nearly doubled from 2013 to 2015.

Cristiane Curcio, who heads the National Association of Borrowers, which provides legal assistance to people who are facing foreclosure, said the great majority of those affected are first-time owners such as the Fernandes family.

The association gets the most calls from the industrial heartland of Sao Paulo, where factory towns are now “frozen,” she said, and from Rio de Janeiro state, where the impact of more than 170,000 layoffs by the state energy company Petrobras has been devastating.

Renan Ataíde Mariano, 28, is fighting to stop the imminent bank auction of the home he bought in Valentim Gentil, a small town in Sao Paulo state.

Mr. Mariano is a heavy-machinery mechanic whose work has dried up in the past two years. He and his wife, a cleaner, bought the house in 2012, when both were earning steady salaries; this year, they fell six months behind on their payments, but they cannot persuade Caixa to renegotiate, and commercial loans are exorbitant.

If the bank were willing to cut their $200-per-month payments in half, they could probably manage, he said.

Across the country, people are drastically reducing their spending, said Renato da Fonseca, director of research for the National Confederation of Industry, which regularly surveys Brazilians on their spending. They have cut back on the quantity and quality of food they buy; turned to public transportation; and cut down or eliminated travel, entertainment, dining out and clothing purchases in an effort to make mortgage payments, service debts they ran up in the good years and pay the bills.

Ms. Fernandes’s mother came out of retirement and went to work in a daycare centre. The family stopped eating meat regularly. She can’t remember the last time she bought new clothes; when her phone broke, she didn’t replace it.

They have appealed to their lender in the hope of relief on the house payments. She lost the paid internships she had. Her degree is dragging on because the professors and staff, who aren’t getting paid by the broke state government, keep going on strike for months at a time.

“I’m qualifying as a teacher in a state that can’t hire teachers. … I could work in the
environmental sector, except that in this economic situation, these are the first programs to be cut,” she said. “The future is so uncertain. … Everything hurts, in this crisis – it’s hard on the mental health of everyone at home. Because everything in our life has changed now.”

Mr. Meirelles, the Class C researcher, said this group feels the crisis most acutely because of the newness of what they are losing. While this isn’t, statistically, the worst economic crisis Brazil has ever faced, almost everyone in this demographic says it is when surveyed, because in previous periods of steep recession, they weren’t consumers and they didn’t feel the change, he said.

There is a vicious-cycle aspect to the curtailing of consumer spending. In the good years, Ms. Fernandes’s family bought furniture, a big TV, computers, a fridge. That kind of hunger, for white goods in particular, played a huge role in Brazil’s boom.

Consumers contributed an estimated 50 per cent of the GDP growth during the decade to 2015. But today, consumer confidence is barely half of what it was five years ago; no one is buying.

“There’s a new aspect to this crisis, which is that people have had access to credit and now they have debt: In the past, you had a crisis, you had income but you didn’t have a lot of debt – because of inflation you bought everything with a lump sum,” said Mr. da Fonseca from the industry association.

“The recovery of growth in Brazil is going to take much more time because consumption is not going to come back as fast as it did before, because families are more indebted.”

All of this puts additional onus on the government’s recovery plan: President Michel Temer, who took over after Dilma Rousseff was impeached, ending four successive Workers’ Party governments, has pledged a stringent fiscal adjustment designed to boost investment.

He has pledged to cut spending (the majority of which is fixed by law on health, education and pensions) and reform labour laws and social security, particularly Brazil’s generous pension plans.

That’s an additional source of stress for everyone newly struggling in Class C. Ms. Fernandes’s father fears that his pension will be reduced. He is disabled, and relies on a range of medications that the family now receives free through a federal government program. She fears that may be cut too. “And then we will left choosing between eating and taking care of health.”

Renan Barreto, 26, lost his job at a Rio IT company in March, when the firm saw its clients evaporate. He, too, was the first in his family to get a college education; he was able to attend thanks to a student loan program that funded his whole degree. (Mr. Temer suspended this program in one of his first acts as President).

Now, however, Mr. Barreto has loan payments, as well as all the other expenses of life; his family recently signed up for a food basket of basic necessities for people in need. He spends his days applying for any job he sees advertised.

“It’s like two lives: the one I had at the beginning of the year and the one I have now. Everything is just flipped upside down.”

My opinion: I find this article interesting because I studied Brazil for Social Studies in jr. high school.

Gr. 7: Japan
Gr. 8: Brazil
Gr. 9: Russia

Nov. 29, 2016 "I'm not cut out for this": Today I found this life essay by Melanie Scott- Delz Cruz in the Globe and Mail:

The idea of unemployment as a blessing came on slowly. It crept up on me while I was spending my days writing, uncovering who I was when freed from others’ expectations; picking my daughter up from school and taking her for long afternoon walks in the park, watching her pull silky milkweed seeds from opening pods and letting them slip from her fingers, feathery snow swirling around her as she ran ahead on the trail.

The dog got his walk every day. There was time to help with French homework and make home-cooked meals: butternut squash soup and baked sweet potatoes with black beans. The Jamie Oliver books came off the shelf.

The anxiety was there. Curled up like dark smoke at the back of my mind. It came out to keep an eye on my fun, asking tough questions.

How will you pay your bills? Curb your spending? Live on one salary?

When it was irate, it reminded me writing would never pay, my husband would resent me, my family and friends must think there was something wrong with me.

Maybe I had a bad résumé, did poorly in interviews, didn’t perform well on the job, so the contract positions I’d taken never kept me on.

The anxiety led me to find a temp job. That, and the exhaustion of overinterviewing for permanent positions, going through excruciating final stages: three, four, once five interviews for one job. Spending time on company questionnaires and writing tests, only to find polite rejections in my inbox.

So the pay for my temp job wasn’t great. So it wasn’t in my field. So it wasn’t remotely what I wanted to do. Not everyone gets to do what they want. I’d be working.
And in that there was something.

The job hit me like an icy lake in the early days of summer. One day, I was planning my writing schedule, leisurely sipping green tea with a dollop of honey, and the next, I was madly ironing work shirts, figuring out packed lunches and tutoring schedules.

My time was snatched away from me. I was in the backyard yelling at the dog to hurry up, so I could help my daughter with her hair and get myself ready.

After work was worse. My daughter went to after-school care and her school day became the length of a workday.

Somehow, we had to accomplish tutoring, homework, baths and dinner in the two hours before her bedtime. Planning dinner was painful.

My husband and I texted like teenagers, repeating: I don’t know, what do you want to do? It always ended the same way: greasy takeout or grilled cheese. I thought I’d have time to write, but by the time my daughter went to bed at eight o’clock, I fell into my own bed, picked up a book and was asleep within the hour. 

When I realized I couldn’t write at the end of the day, I fantasized about getting up at four and writing for two hours before starting my day. It never happened. How do people do that?

The job was an administrative position at an insurance company. I managed my boss’s calendar: She received invites all day long, which conflicted with other meetings and appointments. I had to magically rearrange them, catch her as she rushed from one meeting to the next and ask her which was more important.

If my calendar looked like that, I’d move to Belize and drop every laptop and phone I owned into the ocean, then sell oysters on the beach. I imagined happiness resided in far-off places. Sometimes, I was a chocolatier in Switzerland.

“I never ask my admins to get me coffee,” my boss said to me. It hadn’t crossed my mind that I might have to do that.

One day, I wondered why there was no hand sanitizer left in the office, no tissues, no pens, before realizing it was my job to order them.

I was bad at the job. Not because I minded doing those types of things, but because I’m dizzied by spreadsheets, folders and fine details. I’m a dreamer, not an organizer. Creative people thrive in chaos, don’t they? That’s what I told them when I quit.

I’m looking for something more creative, something more aligned with my personality and skill set. It’s not you. It’s me. I want to write all day long with my dog curled up beside me, pick my daughter up at school, laugh in the evenings with my husband without feeling the sickening stress of the next day.

Time is an extravagance I haven’t earned.

I don’t think I deserve it more than others. My husband hasn’t had the chance to pursue unpaid dreams. So I live with guilt over the disappointment I may have caused him and the financial burden I lifted only momentarily like a tease.

I doubt myself, wonder if I’ve lost my work ethic.

I know I had it. I got through many jobs that were not my calling and was happy enough to have a paycheque.

At least I know the value of time.

I’ve seen the beautiful things that can be unveiled in its presence; when everything else is stripped away and there’s nothing left to do but discover your truest self.

My opinion: I like this life essay, because I can relate to it.  I like writing.  I also have worked in jobs that I'm not really that interested in or like, but as long as I get paid, that's all that matters.  I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that.

My week:

Oct. 19, 2017 Fast food place: I have to write about it so I can get over it and move on.  I had gotten a job at a fast food place at the end of Aug.  I was hired there because there were a couple of workers who were going back to school full-time and they will work in the evenings and weekends.  I'll be working there in the days.

I worked there for 5 weeks and was laid off due to lack of work.  They couldn't give me any shifts.  I gave them my cap and 2 shirts, and that they can call me anytime.  They also said I can have them as a reference.

Job interview: When I went to the interview, I talked to the two bosses/ owners.


1. The pay was like min. wage with tips.  The tips depends on how many hrs you work.

2. Free food.  There was a free staff meal at each shift.

3. The co-workers and bosses were nice.


1. None.

My opinion: I was hired at the interview.  They told me that they liked my resume.  I had passed it to them in person 3 weeks before and I had passed it to them in another location.

Also, if my boss from my 1st restaurant job asked me to come to work that day and my Fast Food job scheduled me, I would say to the 1st restaurant job that I can't come to work for the 1st restaurant job.  However, the 1st restaurant job never called me.

When I work there, I am only 1 of 2 people working there.  It was pretty quiet when I worked there.   

I also made a friend Tr.  He is 20 yrs old.  We had some good discussions like:

Should illegal drugs like heroin be legal?:

Tr: Should illegal drugs like heroin be legal?  The addicts who use it aren't criminals, they have an addiction.

My opinion: I don't think they should be legal.  However, I do support those safe injection sites so medical professionals can supervise people from overdosing.

Staffing agencies:

In 2007: I went to Spherion staffing agency, after 1 yr at MacEwan.  Soon afterwards I got to do a test for Statistics Canada for a call centre job.  There was a math test where you use a normal calculator (and not a scientific or graphing calculator).  It was like gr. 8 and 9 math.

I had to get 20/30 questions right to get the job.  I didn't pass and I didn't ask what the exact mark was because I didn't want to know.

In 2008: After I graduated out of MacEwan, I went to Manpower staffing agency.  I did a test and an interview at a company.  I didn't get hired.

In 2013, I got the job at the company on my own.

In 2008, I learned that staffing agencies aren't good.  My dad told me not to go there.  They aren't here to help you get a job, they are here to help the company find the employees for them.

In 2017, I did give my resume and interview to Express Employment.  They have not called me at all.  It's been months.  My resume now is really different from 2008.  I would say it's more impressive because I have 2 office jobs since then.

My opinion: You can pass your resume to staffing agencies.  However, don't expect much from them.  They are not here to help you the employee, they are here to help the company.  
I remember talking to my co-worker Je about it and he was in his early 20s and said he didn't know much about them.  He did say: "Why should I go to the staffing agency which is a middle man, when I can go straight to the company that is doing the hiring?"

Some companies outsource their hiring to staffing agencies and that's the only way you can apply.

Job interviews: I have nothing bad to say about working at the Fast Food place.

At least I did 2 job interviews at Clothing Store #3.  I had gotten hired at the Fast Food place, but I had already scheduled those other interviews.  I decided to attend to them anyway, because I was curious to see if I would get hired.  I didn't get hired.

Some of you guys may have cancelled those interviews.

However, I got an email from a café in downtown.  I didn't email them back for an interview.

I got a call from an Asian restaurant in downtown.  I didn't call them back for an interview.

Call centre: I got an email from this call centre.  It was temporary 4 month job.  It was far away.  I asked if there was another location, and there was only one.  I turned them down for an interview.  

How old is this woman?:

My opinion: I'm guessing she looks 25 yrs old, but she is really 50 yrs old.  I was right.

Oct. 20, 2017 Pooch Café comic: On Oct. 14, 2017, there was this comic.

Panel 1: The dog Poncho and a Bird are watching TV.

Bird: I don't know how much more TV I can watch.

Panel 2:

Poncho: Hey, if you're gonna be friends with someone, you have to respect the
other person's interests.

Panel 3:

Bird: Worm chip?
Poncho: Get that outta my face. 

My opinion: It reminded me of the friend I had accidentally offended when I made a light
and fun joke of one of her interests.  I do respect her and her interests.

It also reminded me of my sister.  I wrote about this before:

Tracy playing with a panda bear: I have written about this before, but it wasn't on that blog post.  It was that time when I was 13 and my sister was 15:

S was reading a magazine and Tracy was playing with a panda bear.  
Tracy puts her thumb on the panda's nose like the panda is giving S an angry and dirty look.
A few moments pass as the panda continues to give S a dirty look.
S angrily snatches the panda out of Tracy's hand.
Tracy: Hey!

S might as well be saying: Get that outta my face.

JLo and A Rod raise $35 million:

Finally, some good news for Puerto Rico as it continues to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last month.

Entertainment superstar Jennifer Lopez, singer Marc Anthony and baseball great Alex Rodriguez's joint efforts have raised more than $35 million for the island's rebuilding. 
NBC announced Monday that the "One Voice: Somos Live!" telethon raised that staggering amount in pledges during the Oct. 14 event, which was broadcast on dozens of outlets including NBC, Telemundo, Univision and Viacom channels.

Performers included Anthony and Lopez — who were married from 2004 to 2014 — as well as Demi Lovato, Maroon 5, Ricky Martin, Maxwell, Gwen Stefani, Stevie Wonder, Chris Martin and Mary J. Blige.

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