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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un million de privés d’emplois au bord du gouffre

by Fanny Doumayou

One Million Jobless Are in Dire Straits

Translated Monday 4 January 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

In 2010, a very large number of job-seekers will come to the end of their unemployment insurance. Government aid will only kick in for a minority. The trade unions are calling for emergency measures to get through the crisis.

Even though you know the depth of the economic crisis, some figures hit you like a sledge-hammer. This is the case of the projection published on Dec. 14 by the Employment Pole [1], which reveals that in 2010 no less than one million unemployed will come to the end of their benefits without having found a new job. This is more than in 2009, when 850,000 unemployed found themselves in this situation, and more than in 2007, when there were “only” 740,000 of them.

This is the logical conflagration of a ticking time bomb: In 2008, the economic crisis caused unemployment to shoot up. Now the rules that are in force at the Employment Pole limit the length of benefits for most of the jobless to two years. It is therefore in 2010 that the armies of people who had paid enough into the system to be covered for two years will begin to come to the end of their unemployment insurance benefits. To those armies must be added the battalions of floating workers who work for short periods and whose unemployment benefits are correspondingly short-lived.

The Draconian Criteria for Access to the Specific Solidarity Benefit

The matter was sufficiently sensitive and foreseeable for labor and management, during their negotiations on “emergency measures to meet the crisis,” which began in June 2009, to have set up a working group on this theme. It is in this framework that the trade unions requested data on the extent of the catastrophe from the Employment Pole administration. And here is another important piece of information: of the one million people whose unemployment benefits will run out, only 17% will be taken care of by the Specific Solidarity Benefit (ASS), which is paid by the government and is supposed to substitute for unemployment insurance, which is financed by employer and employee contributions. This very low rate is due to the draconian criteria for access to this benefit, even though it pays very little (450 euros a month). Since a reform in 1997, a job-seeker has to have worked five of the previous ten years, and this barrier leads to 80% of the requests being rejected.

For those who do not have a right to ASS, the Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA) [2], the new name of the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion (RMI) [3], serves as the last safety net, but at a lower level. In appearance, ASS and RSA are equivalent, providing 450 euros a month for a single person. However, since it is easier to cumulate the ASS with an income or with a spouse’s salary, it is easier to escape dire poverty with the ASS. Thus, in 2005, 80% of the people receiving RMI benefits were living below the poverty line, compared with 58% of those receiving ASS benefits, and the poverty was more serious under the RMI regime, as was pointed out in a study published in April 2005 by the DREES [4]. Nonetheless, it is not easy to benefit from the RSA either: the job-seeker must be at least 25 years old and not have a partner, unless that partner is also poor. Hence many requests for RSA benefits are rejected. By subtracting the number of people receiving ASS or RSA from the number of unemployed whose benefits have run out, one can determine the number of people who wind up with no income whatsoever.

“The situation is catastrophic! The ASS is not playing its role as a safety net!” Maurad Rabhi exclaimed angrily. He is the negotiator for the CGT trade union confederation, which is calling for emergency measures to help the jobless to “get through the economic crisis.” The CGT is demanding both a lengthening of the period of ASSEDIC [5] unemployment benefits and an easing of the ASS rules to open ASS up to all job-seekers whose unemployment benefits have run out. “The MEDEF [6]is trying to play for time and delay addressing the question until the next round of negotiations on the UNEDIC [7]agreement late in 2010,” Maurad Rabhi protested. Speaking for the FO trade union confederation, Stéphane Lardy believes that the matter must become “a priority” in negotiations with the MEDEF and also for the government, which should contribute financing. Gabrielle Simon, the negotiator for the CFTC trade union confederation, pleads for lengthening the period of unemployment benefits through co-financing by the UNEDIC, the government, and local authorities. “It takes exceptional measures to meet an exceptional situation,” she argues, hoping that “the politicians will address the matter.” For the employers, the urgency of the situation is less patent: “We are aware that this is a real problem, but we need more information to reflect on it,” Dominique Castéra, the leader of the MEDEF delegation, said on Dec. 14. For the employers, only a limited response is imaginable. At their request, the Employment Pole put a figure on lengthening unemployment benefits for an additional three months ... but with the amount of benefits tapering off, so as not to fall into an excess of solidarity. Once his normal unemployment benefits have run out, a job-seeker would get 70% of his benefits the first month, 60% the second month, and finally 50%. This “topping off” would cost the unemployment insurance system 1.3 billion euros.

[1The Employment Pole is a French governmental agency which registers unemployed people, helps them find jobs and provides them with financial aids.

[2The Revenu de solidarité active (RSA) is a French form of social welfare. It is aimed at people earning low wages and provides them with a complement; its aim is to encourage activity.

[3The Revenu minimum d’insertion (RMI) was a French form of social welfare. It was aimed at people without any income who were of working age but did not have any other rights to unemployment benefits (e.g. contributions-based unemployment benefits).

[4DREES is the French acronym of the Research, Study, Evaluation and Statistics Service. It is a service of the French Health Ministry and is responsible for doing statistical studies.

[5ASSEDIC is the French acronym of Association for Employment in the Industry and Trade. Created in 1958, it was an agency of the French government which collected and paid unemployment contributions. In 2009, it was merged into the new Employment Pole agency. The ASSEDIC is now a service provided by the Employment Pole, but it has no juridical existence.

[6MEDEF is the French acronym of the Movement of French Enterprises. It is the largest union of employers in France.

[7UNEDIC is the French acronym of National Inter-professional Union for Employment in Industry and Trade. It was set up in 1958. It was an agency of the French government which provided unemployed people with social benefits. In 2009, it was merged into the Employment Pole agency and was turned into an independent association.

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