The Precariat: A Growing Social Class Shaped by Instability and Inequality


Hatched by Thati

Apr 07, 2024

4 min read


The Precariat: A Growing Social Class Shaped by Instability and Inequality

The home and decoration sector in Brazil has a significant impact on the economy, with 238,800 points of sale and a market value of R$ 96.3 billion. However, the distribution of these stores is uneven, with the South and Southeast regions accounting for only 7.2% of them, while the Northeast region is responsible for 17.8%. In terms of consumption, the majority is concentrated in the Southeast (47.2%), followed by the South (18.9%), the Northeast (17.9%), the North (8.9%), and the Central-West (7.9%). This industry has also generated 458,500 direct jobs in 2022.

While the home and decoration sector seems to thrive, there is an emerging social class called the precariat, which faces a plethora of challenges. Coined by economist Guy Standing, the precariat is characterized by high job turnover and limited labor rights. This group comprises individuals who are forced to accept unstable employment, lacking occupational identity, and often engaged in precarious work.

The precariat, as a social class in its formative stage, is internally divided into three distinct groups. The first group, known as the "Atavics," consists of individuals who feel excluded from the traditional working class communities. They long for a "lost past" of industrial capitalism, wherein they or their predecessors enjoyed various labor rights. Often, these individuals tend to support neo-fascist populists like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.

The second group, the "Nostalgics," comprises mainly immigrants and minority ethnicities who feel disconnected from mainstream society. They experience a sense of displacement and loss in the present, longing for a feeling of belonging and home.

The third group, the "Progressives," represents the educated segment of the precariat. They were promised a future when they entered universities, but the reality turned out to be a gamble. These individuals seek a resurgence of the Enlightenment era, a renewed sense of purpose and hope. Their ideologies and policy preferences will shape progressive politics in the coming decade.

The precariat faces exploitation not only in terms of low and volatile wages but also in the absence of social benefits such as paid leave and retirement prospects. They often live with debts and constantly fear sudden loss of income. Moreover, they are gradually losing all forms of rights, including civil, cultural, social, economic, and political. The absence of political representation exacerbates their disillusionment with parties and political leaders.

The rapid technological revolution further contributes to the growth of the precariat. Technological advancements enable corporations to change their work structures, fragmenting employment and facilitating job turnover. The demand for "flexibility" from employers and the State is unfair when it means that millions of people must accept a life of perpetual social and economic insecurity.

One potential solution to tackle the precariat's challenges is the implementation of a universal basic income. Providing a basic income to every individual throughout their lives would offer those who are exhausted or demand job flexibility the opportunity to do so on their own terms or take a much-needed break. A universal basic income is primarily justified for ethical and philosophical reasons, aiming to achieve social justice, enhance republican justice, and provide a necessary instrument for basic security that we all need.

It is important to note that the main adversary of the precariat is not just the government but also other institutions that shape social policies. These policies often force individuals in the precariat to conform to certain behaviors or hinder certain activities. The government applies "conditionalities" to benefits or prioritizes specific subsidies, affecting the lives of those in the precariat.

In conclusion, the precariat represents a growing social class characterized by instability, inequality, and the erosion of rights. The home and decoration sector's flourishing market value contrasts with the challenges faced by this vulnerable group. To address their needs, policymakers should prioritize labor rights, social protections, and consider implementing a universal basic income. By doing so, we can work towards a more inclusive and equitable society that values the well-being of all its members.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Advocate for labor rights: Support organizations and initiatives that fight for fair labor practices and better working conditions for all workers, including those in the precariat.
  • 2. Raise awareness and promote education: Educate others about the challenges faced by the precariat, the importance of social protections, and the potential benefits of a universal basic income.
  • 3. Engage in political activism: Get involved in grassroots movements and advocate for policies that prioritize the rights and well-being of the precariat. Vote for political leaders who champion progressive and inclusive agendas.

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