France struggles to take hordes of jobless youth under bloated administrative wing of the state
Schemes to target socially challenged areas with jobs seem to be having limited success
Laetitia, a 30-year-old unemployed Frenchwoman and member of CVStreet group, uses a brush to paste posters of herself and others unemployed people in the streets of Marseille. The main idea is to break the anonymity for the unemployed by posting their portraits in the street.
French governments have struggled with the jobless young issue since 1977, when then prime minister Raymond Barre launched the “pact for youth employment”.
For 36 years, most efforts have concentrated on state-subsidised jobs, which account for a quarter of youth employment today. Though these are often decried by conservatives, the right too has resorted to emplois aidés. Nicolas Sarkozy renewed the practice when the crisis started in 2008, creating 550,000 subsidised jobs in 2010.
France created 440,000 emplois aidés last year. That will increase to 540,000 this year, with the additional 100,000 being reserved entirely for disadvantaged youths.
French leaders have learned two things from decades of dealing with joblessness: never admit impotence; and do not attempt to address youth unemployment by proposing less than minimum wage.
The conservative prime minister Dominique de Villepin precipitated mass street demonstrations, and destroyed his own career, when he attempted to enforce a cut-rate contrat premier emploi for the young in 2006. Six years earlier, then socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin probably doomed his chances of becoming president. Faced with lay-offs at a Michelin factory, Jospin admitted “the state cannot do everything.”
In light of these precedents, the admission by labour minister Michel Sapin on June 23rd was surprisingly frank. “Nobody believes that we will resolve unemployment over the medium or long term with subsidised jobs!” he said. “But while growth is stalled, what can we do?”
No French government, left or right, has dared to make the structural reforms that might alleviate unemployment – namely lower labour costs, simpler regulations and less-generous compensation for the jobless. In the absence of an overhaul, the government buys social peace and massages the unemployment figures with subsidised jobs.
Origin of parents
The prevalence of youth unemployment among the descendents of immigrants from France’s former colonies is a delicate topic, rarely addressed head-on. Repeated studies have shown job applicants with an African or Arab name, or an address in “le neuf trois” – the Seine-Saint-Denis department north of Paris – are extremely unlikely to find employment.
“If you haven’t got connections, you’re dead,” a youth named Malik in a banlieue north of Paris told Le Monde’s reporter Pascale Krémer. “For the young in the housing projects, there’s only dog work. If you do short-term work, they exploit you completely. We have self-respect. We were born here. We went to school. We’re not going to pick up people’s shit like our parents did.”
The result, says sociologist Cécile van de Velde, is “a form of social pathology” in which jobless French youths are “like beached boats. With the rules stacked against them, they withdraw from the game. It’s a form of resistance, and of self-protection.”
Back in 1967, president Georges Pompidou warned that if France ever reached half a million jobless “there will be a revolution”. Total unemployment in France now stands at 3.26 million. The revolution hasn’t happened, but there’s a constant fear that the banlieues could explode at any moment, as they did in the autumn of 2005 when two African teenagers died accidentally while fleeing police.