France’s jobless level at new low

But 7% target is tough

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Jobless numbers have fallen to their lowest since 2008 and the financial crash.

They hit 8.1% in the last months of 2019, giving a glimmer of hope for the Macron government as it faces pension protests.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a TV interview that it was a “decisive success for France and a decisive success for the economic policies of the last three years”.

It meant 26 departments were now in “practically full employment”.

Unemployment in the final quarter of 2019 fell 0.4%, to make 0.7% over the 12 months for a total of 8.1% out of work, the state statistics agency Insee said.

Encouragingly, the figures showed 66% of 15-64- year-olds were employed and the percentage of people in sought-after long-term (CDI) posts had stayed level, at 49.3%, rather than falling and giving a knock-on increase in short-term (CDD) contracts.

With 210,000 new jobs created in 2019, the Insee figures showed a picture that was improving from the 163,000 created in 2018 – but down from the 329,700 created in 2017 by the Hollande government, in which President Macron was a minister.

Mr Le Maire and Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud were quick to credit their government’s employment and other reforms, saying 7% by 2022 was possible, but economist and forecaster Bruno Ducoudré, of the Observatoire Français des Con­jonctures Econo­miques, said this was “wishful thinking”.

He said: “It is too soon for results on long-term structural changes, such as vocational training and in-work study, and no study has been done.

“Easing labour laws was to make the market more flexible so it can only have a short-term effect.

“However, we see companies have less fear and have continued to hire, even as growth slows down.

“Elsewhere, the reduction in social charges and the CICE tax credit for employment is a policy carried on from the previous government, and our evaluation of CICE found it could help create up to 100,000 jobs, so only a part of the 210,000 created.

“For me, the fall in jobless is due to growth and improvement in the economic situation.

“But growth is slowing and we have a series of challenges, including now the slowdown caused by coronavirus.

These problems will hit the very industries – tourism, transport, health – that were expected to recruit strongly in 2020.

“Significantly, however, while ministers previously avoided setting a target, now they say 7% unemployed is possible by 2022... and say it although they know it caused perpetual problems for Hollande.

“It would justify their changes and tax breaks, but for us it is simply not likely. It would need a 0.5% cut in jobless in each year. There is too little growth.”

The CGT union said the figures hid the reality of people left out of the totals: people with no internet who could not update files, longer waiting times to get on the list, non-salaried workers and those who had used up their rights.

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