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LATIN AMERICA | 30-10-2020 14:15

Pandemic drives Brazil jobless rate to record 14.4%

Brazil's economy lost 4.3 million jobs between July and August, bringing the total number of unemployed to 13.8 million people, the government said.

Brazil's jobless rate hit a record 14.4 percent in the June to August period as the coronavirus pandemic pounded Latin America's largest economy, the government reported Friday.

This is the highest level of unemployment recorded in Brazil since the government started measuring joblessness by three-month periods in 2012.

For the May to July stretch it had reached 13.8 percent, which was also a record, the Brazilian statistics institute said.

It said that in June to August a record of nearly six million people simply gave up trying to find a job.

The pandemic has taken a crushing human toll in Brazil, killing more than 158,000 people.

That is the second-highest death toll worldwide, after the United States.

The health crisis has also triggered a political fight in Brazil between state governors who support lockdown measures to save lives and far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, an ally of Donald Trump.

Like the US president, Bolsonaro regularly downplays the risk of the virus and favours keeping the economy open.

4.3 million jobs lost

Brazil's economy lost 4.3 million jobs for the three-month period, bringing the total number of unemployed to 13.8 million people, the government said.

But that was an improvement from the 7.3 million jobs lost from May to July, fuelling hope that the recovery is gaining steam.

"We are now seeing greater movement in the labor market," said Adriana Beringuy, an analyst for the statistics institute.

However, some other numbers remain grim.

On Wednesday the Brazilian real hit a five-month low of 5.75 to the dollar, and the São Paulo stock market slid nearly five percent over fears for the impact Europe's second wave of infections will have on the global economy.

Brazil, Latin America's biggest country, with 212 million people, entered a recession in the second quarter of the year with a record economic contraction of 9.7 percent.

Lately, forecasts for the year have been improving somewhat.

The International Monetary Fund, which in June was predicting Brazil's economy would shrink a devastating 9.1 percent in 2020, this month revised its estimate to -5.8 percent.

Political uncertainty

Brazil was undergoing a gradual reopening during the June-August period, after going into lockdowns that were unevenly implemented depending on the city or state.

Bolsonaro faces criticism for his response to the pandemic.

Opponents say his resistance to lockdown measures has further weakened the economy, not protected it.

In the latest spat to amplify the atmosphere of political uncertainty, Bolsonaro last week canceled his own health minister's order for 46 million doses of a Chinese-developed coronavirus vaccine that is in the final stage of testing.

The CoronaVac vaccine's most visible advocate in Brazil has been São Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a top Bolsonaro opponent.

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