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French unemployment rate drops to 7.4% beating predictions

Ministers have celebrated the figures – the lowest since 2008. We look at which sectors are currently recruiting the most

Closeup of a Pole Emploi unemployment agency sign

Unemployment rates dropped more than expected in the last quarter of 2021, new figures show Pic: ricochet64 / Shutterstock

Unemployment rates in France dropped more than expected in the last quarter of 2021 and are now below pre-pandemic levels, with the number of people out of work now at around 2.2 million.

Unemployment rates fell by 0.6% in France in the last three months of 2021, to 7.4% of the active population nationwide (except Mayotte). This not only brings them to pre-pandemic levels, but also the lowest level since 2008.

The new figures were published today (Friday, February 18) by national statistics bureau the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (Insee).

Overall, employment for those aged 15-64 is now at 76.8%.

Unemployment is now at 0.8 percentage points below pre-pandemic levels (end of 2019) “and at its lowest level since 2008, if we ignore the ‘false’ low of spring 2020, caused by the health crisis”.

Over the four previous quarters (before Q4, 2021), unemployment had remained stable, between 8.1 and 8%.

The drop to 7.4% is more significant than Insee predicted. In its most recent prediction, it expected unemployment to drop to 7.8% at the end of 2021; meaning that 100,000 more people would be in work in comparison to the previous quarter.

Among those to have become employed, young people are particularly well-represented, with youth unemployment down 3.6%, reaching 15.9% overall. This is among “the lowest levels seen since the ‘80s and early ‘90s”.

Among those aged 25-49, unemployment dropped by 0.3% to 6.8%, and among those aged 50 and over, it remained stable at 5.8%.

The drop is more significant for women (-0.8% to 7.3%) than men (-0.4% to 7.5%).

The figures for the last quarter of 2021 equate to 189,000 people coming out of unemployment. The number of people officially considered to be without employment in France at the end of 2021 is now 2.2 million.

‘A major French victory’

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has hailed the figures as a “major French victory”, and said the improvement is due to government policies.

He said: “The results are in, this is a major French victory against resignation and fatalism.”

He highlighted that the “unemployment rate is the lowest since 2008” and “the lowest among young people since 1986”.

Minister for Labour Elisabeth Borne called the figures “excellent news” and said that “unemployment is now at its lowest for the past 15 years”.

Long-term unemployment has also dropped by 0.2% to 2.2.% of the active population. This is also equal to pre-pandemic levels. This equates to 700,000 unemployed people who have been looking for work for more than a year.

How does Insee define ‘unemployed’?

Insee uses the definition of “unemployed person” as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO). It states:

“An unemployed person is a person aged 15 or over:

  • Without a job during a given week;

  • Available to start a job within the next two weeks;

  • Actively having sought employment at some time during the last four weeks or having already found a job that starts within the next three months.

Active search methods include studying job advertisements, asking friends, relatives or acquaintances, contacting Pôle emploi, etc. Being registered to Pôle emploi alone is not per se an active search method.”

What are the predictions for 2022?

Insee is set to release new prediction stats in mid-March, with rates likely to be affected by the ongoing health crisis situation. 

Sylvain Larrieu, head of the Insee work market division, has warned that after a sharp drop sometimes comes a sharp rise.

However, many sectors are now beginning to recruit again after the difficulties of the Covid pandemic, a new report from analytics firm Adecco Analytics, newspaper Le Parisien has suggested.

The study found that in the final quarter of 2021, the sectors that were most actively recruiting were in retail, wholesale trade, and social activism, followed by IT, engineering and architecture, estate agency work, hospitality, construction, and charity work

The most-searched-for jobs were in accounting, IT study and development, childcare, commercial IT, adult care, logistics, estate agency work and industrial construction.

The geographical regions recruiting the most are ranked as follows, with Ile-de-France unsurprisingly at the top of the list.

  1. Ile-de-France

  2. Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

  3. Nouvelle-Aquitaine

  4. Occitanie

  5. Pays de la Loire

  6. Grand Est

  7. Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur

  8. Hauts-de-France

  9. Brittany

  10. Normandy

  11. Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

  12. Corsica

Geographical regions with particular jobs expected to be created this year include the “Brittany Sailing Valley”, where racing yachts are being prepared for the Vendée Globe race; and the Côte d'Azur, where Ikea is planning to open a new superstore.

The rise in eco-friendly companies and developments is also expected to provide extra employment opportunities, especially with the proliferation of large solar panel developments across the country.

Engineers, installers, and inspectors are expected to be in high demand, and young people with an interest in climate change may benefit particularly in years to come. 

The report stated: “Everywhere, companies will need to hire in order to reach their objectives for 2022.”

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