'Can't be choosy': Brazil's jobless take any work they can get

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Standing in line outside an employment center in Rio de Janeiro, Thaysa dos Santos says she is ready to accept any job. As one of Brazil's 13 million unemployed, she says she cannot be "choosy."

As Latin America's biggest economy threatens to slide back into recession, just two years after emerging from a devastating crisis, finding work is harder than ever.

"Nowadays it is very difficult," says dos Santos, 27, a former office assistant who has been looking for a full-time job for three months.

"People can't be choosy. We can't get a job that matches our CV so we have to take whatever is available."

Brazil's 12.3 percent jobless rate is higher than at any point during the 2015-2016 recession that caused the economy to shrink nearly seven percent.

Since then, sluggish growth -- the economy expanded 1.1 percent in 2017 and 2018, and analysts expect an even slower pace this year -- is discouraging companies from expanding their payrolls, despite a new pro-business president in Jair Bolsonaro.

With limited government assistance available, many unemployed Brazilians rely on family for support or pick up informal jobs where they can, but that means lower paid, cash-in-hand work offering no health insurance.

Wanderson Cesar, 32, has been looking for a permanent security guard position for more than four years.

He counts himself lucky to have a wife who works as a receptionist. With the money he gets for odd jobs, the couple can just about make ends meet.

"I'm a man so I need to work to provide food for my family. I need to help," Cesar says as he waits to enter the job center.

- Lack of education -

The problem is not just a shortage of jobs.

Some companies struggle to attract qualified applicants for the positions that are available, says Aline Cardoso, labor secretary for Brazil's largest city Sao Paulo.

"This can be in more technical, sophisticated professions, but sometimes even the most basic professions lack qualified applicants," says Cardoso.

Brazil's woeful school system is partly to blame.

The World Bank estimated in 2017 that it would take Brazilian 15-year-olds 75 years to reach the OECD average score in maths, and more than 260 years in reading.

And that is if they actually finish school.

Only 69 percent of Brazilians aged 15-19 are enrolled in education, the OECD said last year -- one of the lowest rates in its group.

Lucia Santos did not even complete nine years of elementary school, which is for children aged six to 14.

The 23-year-old mother of two has been looking for full-time work as a cashier for five years.

"Now it's more complicated because employers want you to have finished elementary school," says Santos, who left after year eight.

- Giving up -

Chronic unemployment is getting worse.

The number of people out of work for more than two years reached 3.3 million in the first quarter -- an increase of 42.4 percent in four years, the government-backed Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) said recently.

Prolonged unemployment is taking a toll on job seekers, says Paulo Vasconcelos, coordinator of the Catholic Community Generating Lives volunteer group, which runs the job center.

"We have people unemployed for one year, one and a half years, two years," says Vasconcelos, who reports an increasing rate of depression and helplessness among long-term job seekers.

"This year we have started to see a lot of people looking for work who don't have anything to eat at home."

Several months ago, Yanca Castro, 22, travelled thousands of kilometers (miles) from the northern city of Manaus to Rio to find a job. She is still looking.

In Sao Paulo, Marcelo dos Santos has been out of work for 15 months after losing his job in construction.

He has applied for several positions, but until now "no one has called," the 48-year-old tells AFP at a government-run employment center there.

"This 10 months, 15 months (without a job), it never happened before," he says.

Many are giving up.

The number of people who stopped looking for work in the March to May period topped 4.9 million, up from 4.8 million and the highest on record, the latest official data show.

- No easy solution -

Brazil's stagnant economic growth makes it difficult to create employment, IPEA economist Jose Ronaldo Souza told AFP recently, warning the jobless rate "could get worse."

That has knock-on effects.

"With so many unemployed, consumption growth is likely to remain weak," says William Jackson of Capital Economics.

"It's hard to see other engines of growth in the Brazilian economy -- global growth is weak, which will hold back exports and fiscal policy is tightening."

There is no easy solution to a problem that Alex Agostini of Austin Rating says is both structural and cyclical.

A lack of investment in education and training in a country with a large youth population has exacerbated unemployment.

Despite the challenges, Thaysa dos Santos says she remains optimistic about the future.

"You have to be," she says.