Brazilians say joblessness is their No. 1 problem

Silvia Pinheiro de Coelho sits in a coffee shop along the broad Avenida Paulista looking at the classified section of a Sao Paulo newspaper. ``There's nothing here,'' she complains. ``Not only no jobs for me, but only four or five advertisements of jobs.''

For six weeks, Kiki, as she is known to her friends, has been job hunting. Six years after joining a cosmetics firm, first as an office worker and then as a demonstrator of cosmetic products, she was fired in an economy wave Dec. 1.

``I saved a little, but hardly enough to last more than a month more. And I have rent to pay on my two-room apartment. I suppose I could take in a roommate, but finding someone you can trust and want to live with isn't easy.''

Kiki's story is not unique in this sprawling nation. Some 55 million Brazilians are potential members of the work force, but only slightly more than 40 million have jobs, according to federal employment officials. Officially the unemployment rate is cited as 18 percent, but with many Brazilians finding only pick-up and part-time jobs, the combined unemployment and underemployment rate is often said to be 40 percent.

President-elect Tancredo de Almeida Neves, tapped Wednesday by the Electoral College to be Brazil's first civilian leader in 21 years, sees job-creation as one of the most demanding problems he faces.

The employment picture in the years ahead also looks forbidding. More than half of Brazil's 130 million people are under age 17, and 3.5 million 17-year-olds join the job market each year.

Economic analsyts say some sort of national policy on the issue is needed if the social problems that unemployment creates are not to grow.

``If Tancredo Neves is to go down in history as bringing Brazil back to democracy and justice,'' says Sao Paulo banker Rubem Preora de Alves, ``he has to put his biggest attention on the employment problems, to get Brazilians back to work. Otherwise he won't have succeeded.''

Many top economic analysts agree.

The employment picture varies from region to region in Brazil. Here in Sao Paulo, the jobless total is considered low at 7.5 percent, according to one survey.

Vastly higher number of unemployed are found Brazil's northeast, where some 25 percent or more of the national population lives. The northeast is a perenially depressed area where residents cope with joblessness and malnutrition. Many of them live completely outside themainline economy; some turn to crime simply to get by.

Kiki knows all about such poverty. She came from the northeast. ``I left when I was 18. It was hard. My mother and father were tied to life there. But I wanted something else. . . . So I came south. That was 13 years ago.

``I had gotten through sixth grade at home. But I needed more education and I got it in Rio where I went first.''

She worked as a waitress and ``with the money I was making, I went to school. I spent seven years in Rio. . . . You know, after the northeast, I suddenly was living well.''

``I got into cosmetics. . . . But cosmetics is a depressed industry now.''

So are lots of industries in Brazil. Although unemployment seems to have bottomed out in many areas after three years of recession, the the situation is spotty.

``I am hopeful,'' Kiki says. ``I guess I am just an optimist. Things have gone well for me in the past. Something will turn up.''

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