French unemployment breaks previous record

Hollande calls for unity to reverse trend ‘by end of year’

François Hollande: asked his compatriots to unite in what he called “this only national cause: the struggle against unemployment”. Photograph: Reuters

François Hollande: asked his compatriots to unite in what he called “this only national cause: the struggle against unemployment”. Photograph: Reuters

Sat, Apr 27, 2013, 06:00

Reacting to France’s highest unemployment figures to date, President François Hollande asked his compatriots to unite in what he called “this only national cause: the struggle against unemployment.”

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Mr Hollande said winning jobs for French people was the purpose of his visit to China. He reiterated his long-stated goal of “reversing the curve of unemployment by the end of the year”.

But government figures released late Thursday make it increasingly clear that Mr Hollande will not reach that goal. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted last month that French unemployment would continue to rise until the end of the year, when it would stabilise around 11.25 per cent. Finance minister Pierre Moscovici has reportedly admitted that France will not be able to create jobs until 2015.

Close to 1,000 French people are losing their jobs every day. An additional 36,900 people joined the ranks of those with no professional activity in March, bringing the total to 3,224,600 unemployed. The previous record, of 3,195,000 unemployed, was reached in January 1997.

When all categories of those who are seeking employment, including part-time workers, are added, the total rises to 5,348,500.

Youth unemployment has risen 50 per cent in five years, reaching a record 25.7 per cent. Of those youths who are employed, one quarter are in state-subsidised jobs. Though Mr Hollande promised to create 100,000 ‘emplois d’avenir’ for unqualified youths from the immigrant suburbs and rural France, only 10,000 have been taken up. And employers have been reluctant to take advantage of the ‘contrats de génération’ which allow them to link the hiring of a young person, free of social charges, to the continued employment of a senior citizen.

Those over 50 have been hit hardest, with a 101 per cent rise in unemployment, to 978,200, over five years.

The prime minister and labour minister reacted to the news by noting that the panoply of measures espoused by the government is now in place. In addition to public sector jobs for young people, a state-run bank has been created to help small and medium size businesses. The government is offering euros 20 bn in business tax credits to lower the cost of labour. And a law making it easier to fire employees will be passed by the National Assembly on May 14. A second ‘social conference’ will be held on June 20-21 to consider other means of fighting unemployment.

The record unemployment figures coincided with the news that the Germany economy is growing faster than expected. A statement by French socialist party leaders yesterday (Fri) attacked “the selfish intransigence of Chancellor Merkel, who thinks only of German savings, Berlin’s balance of trade and her own electoral future”.