SAO PAULO – For decades, Denis Dias’s parents could never break into Brazil’s middle class. They started a bakery and a pizzeria in the 1970s and 1980s, but the country’s economic instability and hyper-inflation consumed their businesses and their hopes. His father ended up owning a newsstand. His mother worked as a maid. And Denis attended dilapidated state-run schools.

Over the last 10 years, Denis and at least 35 million other Brazilians have achieved their parents’ dream. Denis is a corporate lawyer at a Brazilian energy company and a new member of Brazil’s middle class, now 100 million people strong. Denis, his company and his nation have ridden the exports of iron ore, soy, oil and other natural resources to prosperity.

But Brazilians ranging from Dias to business leaders to government officials say Brazil must develop a more sophisticated economy and effective government if it hopes to continue its rise. While attention has focused on political turmoil in India, China and Russia, Brazil has quietly emerged as the economic laggard of the BRIC countries.

“Brazil is not competitive,” Dias lamented. “We need to change.”

Two weeks ago, Brazil’s finance minister announced that the country’s economy grew at an anemic 0.6 percent in the first half of 2012, far below South Africa’s 3.2 percent, Russia’s 4 percent, India’s 5.5 percent and China’s 7.6 percent during the same period. Even Latin American rivals Mexico, Chile and Colombia are growing faster, as is the United States.

Other indicators are worrying as well. In 2011, the World Bank named Brazil 126th out of 183 countries in its “Ease of Doing Business” rankings, a drop from 120th the previous year. Fears are high here that the country’s unsolved structural problems will prevent it from returning to the 4 percent average annual GDP growth it enjoyed over the last decade.