Latest News

Coronavirus: Income Falls for 7 in 10 Families in Brazil’s Favelas

Survey conducted by Data Favela indicates risk of social upheaval due to pandemic

Clique aqui para Português

For the original article in Portuguese by Rodrigo Caetano published in Exame click here.

This is the fourth article in what will be a spotlighted issue on RioOnWatch for the foreseeable future: the new coronavirus as it impacts Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. The series features both original RioOnWatch publications and those translated from other sources such as this one.


Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, 70% of families living in favelas have experienced a fall in income, according to a survey of more than 1,000 residents in 262 communities conducted by the Data Favela research institute. “As alarmist as it may sound, this picture may indicate a situation of social upheaval in the near future,” notes Renato Meirelles, founder of the Locomotiva Institute, which created Data Favela in partnership with Central Única das Favelas (CUFA).

The study also indicates that 84% of favela residents project a reduction in their income. In Brazil, 13.6 million people live in favelas. For 71% of them, work is their primary source of income, and 86% already feel a slump in work activity or sales at the companies where they apply their professional skills.

In response, 80% of residents are cutting expenses. Were they to lose their primary source of income, two in three favela residents would be unable to pay their bills. 86% say they would struggle to buy food after one month, and 72% would be unable to maintain their living standards after one month.

For Celso Athayde, founder of CUFA, the pandemic will affect the Brazilian population unequally. “The study makes it clear that millions of Brazilians will stay at home with an empty fridge,” he says.

The situation is aggravated by the closing of schools and many residents’ informal employment. Nearly all (97%) favela residents have shifted their routines in response to the virus. Over half of them have children, and 86% of those children are no longer attending school. With kids now at home, 84% of families note increased expenses.

Among those with jobs, only 19% are formally employed, while 47% work autonomously. For Meirelles from Locomotiva, the only way to help this population is through direct income transfers.

“Basic food baskets help, but once again, that’s the broader city dictating what favela residents have the right to. It would be more effective to transfer income to them directly so they might buy what they need,” Meirelles affirms. “If no effective action is taken, public or private, to guarantee minimal income, postpone bill payment, and ensure the provision of basic goods, like food, Internet, and cleaning products, there could be a favela revolt.”


Support RioOnWatch’s tireless, critical and cutting-edge hyperlocal journalism. #FundFavelaReporting: bit.ly/DonateToRioOnWatch