André Tamandaré isn't supposed to be so angry.
Over the past decade, the 33-year-old high-school dropout has moved into his own house, got a steady job and earned enough with his longtime girlfriend, Rosimeire de Souza, to lead their two kids into Brazil's fast-rising middle class.
Now a public health worker in a sprawling suburb east of Rio de Janeiro, Tamandaré is the kind of citizen that Brazil's government thought was fulfilled. Instead, he is one of the more than a million people across Latin America's biggest country who have hit the streets in a wave of mass protests.
Brazilians are railing against poor public schools, hospitals and transportation. They are protesting soaring prices, crime and corruption. They are lambasting a political class so self-satisfied that it failed to see, much less address, the mounting discontent that led to the protests.
The concerns reflect growing unease among Brazil's nearly 200 million people that the country's long-promised leap into the developed world has fallen short once again.
"All you need to do is walk around a little to see how undeveloped we still are," Tamandaré said, smoking a cigarette on a plastic stool next to his small square kitchen table. "Take a bus, go to the health clinic—it's all shabby, slow, dangerous and infuriating."
The demonstrations, sparked by protests against a rise in public transport fares, at first drew mostly educated young people from Brazil's traditional middle class—a minority that historically has had more in common with a wealthy elite than the nearly 100 million Brazilians who until recently formed the ranks of the poor.
The demonstrations took off when Brazil's "new" middle class joined the fray.
"This is the discontent of people for whom having enough rice and beans on the table no longer comes as a surprise," said Rodrigo Dutra, a documentary filmmaker in Duque de Caxias, another working-class Rio suburb, who is studying the differences between these protests and rioting that followed a 1962 food shortage.
Much has been made in recent years about Brazil's emerging middle class—most of all by the leftist Workers' Party, in power since 2003.
Booming commodity exports, a consumer binge and ambitious social welfare programs fueled a decade of steady economic growth that lifted 35 million Brazilians out of poverty. But now, as the economy cools, many among the new middle class say their much-vaunted ascent leaves a lot to be desired.
"It's all relative," says Dione Brandão, a teacher, after a recent march along Avenida Atlântica, a promenade in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood. "What good is more consumer spending when security and education are worse?"
A Middling Middle
Approval ratings are plunging for President Dilma Rousseff, who until recently enjoyed some of the highest poll numbers of any elected leader worldwide. Since the protests began, her public-support level has sunk 27 percentage points, settling at 30 percent of those surveyed by the pollster Datafolha.
Middle-class Brazilians are expressing some of the same frustrations fueling unrest in Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. The demands vary by country but reflect a common struggle by the governments of many developing nations to meet rising expectations.
The very idea of middle class in Brazil is different from that of North America or Western Europe.
No tree-lined suburbs and Volvos for the newly empowered here.
(Read More: Brazil Protesters Struggle to Define Next Steps)
Instead, the term is used broadly to include almost anyone able to pay rent, put food on the table and perhaps pay a monthly installment on the refrigerator, microwave or television that Brazil's government often touts as a sign of their emergence. The so-called Classe C, the bottom rung of Brazil's middle class, earns as little as 1730 reais a month (about $790) and, unlike the much-smaller upper-middle class, relies largely on public transportation, health services and schools.
The problem is that, for all its success, Brazil invests far less in public services than any other major economy.
When democracy followed a two-decade military dictatorship, Brazil's 1988 constitution enshrined European-style pensions and other social benefits, despite economic limitations.
"We adopted a model that transfers a lot of public wealth to individuals and leaves very little for public investment," says Samuel Pessoa, an economist at the Fundação Getulio Vargas, a business school and research institute.
So, even though it taxes people at levels similar to Switzerland, Canada and Australia, with a tax burden equal to about 34 percent of the economy, Brazil spends most of its resources on personnel costs and entitlements. Instead of improving roads, rail systems or schools, revenues go toward pensions, public-sector salaries and transfers to state and municipal governments, which use the funds for their own high expenditures of a similar sort.
Less than 5 percent of the government spending last year went toward investments, according to a recent study by Credit Suisse.
As Brazil's once-booming economy is stuck in a prolonged lull, the government is being tight even with the money it does have to invest. Last year, Brazil spent less than 10 percent of the funds it had allocated for urban transport projects, according to data compiled by watchdog group Contas Abertas.
The result is poor public services. For those who rely on them, day-to-day life is a series of hassles that are a terrible grind at best, but often dangerous and even deadly.
Two hour-plus commutes aren't unusual in big cities like São Paulo or Rio—not to mention the grimy, unpredictable and overpriced trains and buses helmed by overworked drivers. In April, a bus driver arguing with an irate passenger careered off an overpass, killing nine.
When Brazilians get home, often in neighborhoods where basic trash collection and sewage are lacking, they worry about some of the worst violent crime in the world. The homicide rate in Brazil, as tallied by the United Nations, was 21 deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, compared with 4.8 in the United States and one in China. Residents sometimes look for protection not to police but to drug gangs or other criminal factions that control entire suburbs.
Kids are less truant than in the past, thanks to a welfare plan that pays parents to keep them in school, but they aren't learning a lot there. Literacy rates and test scores lag those in many other developing countries, let alone the advanced ones that Brazil hopes to join.
Those who can't afford private health insurance—which is most people—are at the mercy of public hospitals that often lack basic supplies and, increasingly, doctors, some of whom are so disgusted with the system that they limit their work to private providers. The physician shortage in public hospitals is so bad that the government wants to bring them in from Cuba.
Brazil is not about to collapse. The protests have been largely nonviolent. And Rousseff, while blindsided by the protesters, moved quickly to recognize their concerns and has vowed to increase investments. Her plummeting popularity doesn't mean certain electoral defeat, especially because the protesters don't have a unified agenda or political party.
Unemployment, meanwhile, remains near record lows, the legacy of a decade that by most accounts was remarkable.