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New dimensions of racial inequalities

Platform allows unprecedented cross-referencing of official data from areas such as health and education

Júlia Cherem Rodrigues with photos by Léo Ramos Chaves / Revista Pesquisa FAPESP

An open platform, with a friendly interface, that compiles information from multiple official databases should enable new investigations into the racial inequalities in Brazil. Developed by the Center for Studies and Data on Racial Inequality (CEDRA), based in Rio de Janeiro, the system that was launched in 2022 enables information about income, occupation, housing, and education to be cross-referenced according to criteria of color, race, and gender of the population and aims to offer subsidies for the production of public policies and scientific investigations about the theme.

One of its creators is economist Eduardo Pereira Nunes, former president of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) and former professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ). He explains that the platform combines data from the 2010 Census and from the Continuous National Household Sample Survey (PNADC), between 2012 and 2019, to offer unprecedented methods of reading IBGE data. Physicist Marcelo Tragtenberg, of the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and also the founder of CEDRA, states that the platform does not include data about Indigenous populations because of the lack of representative sampling of this section of society in the PNAD. “The PNAD does not reach Indigenous lands and, as a result, the statistical errors of the samples are extremely large,” he justifies.

According to Nunes, the system is based on data about those responsible for the 57 million households registered in the 2010 Census. “Some of the revealing information provided by the platform relates to race, color, and gender,” says the economist. It was possible to identify, for example, that in 2010, 33.8% of the homes in Brazil housed Black people only, 27.3% were inhabited by Black residents and people of another color or race, while 38.9% of houses had no Black residents. “These numbers indicate that miscegenation occurs more intensely in the medium and lower income levels of society,” says Tragtenberg. For historian Wânia Sant’Anna, of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) and founder of CEDRA, the data about the configuration of Brazilian households offers counterpoints to the idea that Brazilian society is intensely miscegenated and the country lives in a racial democracy, to the extent that in 2010, only 27.3% of homes housed Black people and people of other races. “Through the platform, our objective is to propose destabilizing reflections like this one,” she says.

Alexandre Affonso / Revista Pesquisa FAPESP

Also in 2010, the average income per resident in houses where only Black people lived was R$598, in homes occupied by Black and non-Black people it was R$627, and in homes without Black residents it was R$1,400. “The data indicates a situation of social exclusion,” comments Nunes. With regards to the labor market, the economist highlights that another unprecedented cross-referencing of data by the platform showed the occupations where the majority of people are either Black or White. In 2010, in the jobs in which Black people were predominant, the average income per hour corresponded to 20% of the average amount for occupations in which the majority of people were White. The platform also showed that the average income of White people is higher even in occupations in which the majority of workers are Black. “We identified that the less sophisticated the demand for labor is, the greater the presence of Black people,” says the economist. In Nunes’s perspective, it is only possible to change this situation through initiatives such as quota policies. “How can we get more Black people into medicine, for example, if their living conditions are different from White people from their family origin, so that they need to work while they study, and White people have a more favorable situation to prepare themselves for university entrance exams?”

In relation to the percentage differences of Black and White people enrolled in higher education, Sant’Anna, from IBASE, considers the phenomenon as a consequence of the lack of policies aimed at overcoming these inequalities. “For this reason, it is not enough, for example, to just invest in the creation of full-time schools. It is necessary to develop actions so that Black children enter and remain in these institutions, so that they are able to reach higher education,” she says, pointing to high-school as the central stage for attention when wanting to improve the qualification level of young Black people.

The system shows that Black people were responsible for the majority of the houses on the extreme poverty line, i.e., with average monthly income of up to 12.5% of the minimum wage. Another statistic raised is that the number of Black people in peripheral regions was more than double that of White people. Considering residents on the outskirts of the cities, access to higher education was unequal between White and Black people in 2010: 5.9% of Black women, compared with 11.5% of White women. Tragtenberg explains that the idea of peripheral areas used by the platform comes from the IGBE proposal of subnormal agglomerates, in other words, zones that include communities and housing with a scarcity of urban public services. “Even in these peripheral areas, White people have twice the likelihood of having a university education,” she states. In 2010, 55% of Black people aged 15 and over had no education or had not completed primary education. Among White people, the equivalent value was 37.5%.

Alexandre Affonso / Revista Pesquisa FAPESP

The platform received funding and support from the Çarê, Galo da Manhã, and Ibirapitanga institutes, from the Itaú Foundation, and from the Itaú Unibanco Bank and is being improved so that during 2023 it will start including information from the Brazilian public health system (SUS), the National Institute for Educational Studies and Research (INEP), and official statistics about violence. “The inclusion of these new databases will make it possible to know the incidence of violent deaths, in households which Black women are responsible for, among other information about health and education,” explains Nunes. In the future, the economist informs that data from the 2022 Census, which are being collected, will also feed the platform. Besides Nunes, Sant’Anna, and Tragtenberg, CEDRA was founded in 2020 by economists Hélio Santos, president of Oxfam Brazil, and Mário Theodoro, of the University of Brasília (UnB).

During the launch event in December, in São Paulo, Santos explained that the platform intends to work as a “data mill that leads to the implementation of public policies.” In the economist’s point of view, public university has been weakened over the last four years, “exactly at a time when Black people have amplified their presence in these institutions,” and it is necessary to “adopt systemic affirmative actions.”

For demographer Bernadette Cunha Waldvogel, of the Demographic Management of the State Data Analysis System Foundation (SEADE), the new platform is an important instrument for demographic studies, and the production and monitoring of public policies that seek to reduce racial inequalities. “The great innovation of the system lies precisely in the format in which it gathers, in a single space, information produced and made available by different data sources, facilitating the joint use and increasing the scope and reach of studies,” says Waldvogel. Finally, anthropologist Sandra Garcia, coordinator of the Population and Society Center of the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP), assesses that the platform will make it possible to renew the collaborative efforts between researchers and public policy makers “in order to better identify and understand the interrelated factors that make racial inequalities persistent for generations.”