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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les actifs pauvres, de plus en plus nombreux

by Cyrille Poy

France: More and More People in Work Beneath the Poverty Line

Translated Sunday 13 May 2007, by Emma Paulay

An interview with Christine Olm, project head in the department of evaluation of social policies of CREDOC, which has analysed the decline in living conditions.

Huma: Are there more and more people in work beneath the poverty line?

Christine Olm: The figures we have, which go up to 2004, show an increase in the percentage of people with jobs who are in a state of poverty. This increase, without being large, is nonetheless clear. This phenomenon does not only concern France. It began in the mid seventies and has been growing ever since, rising from 4% in 1970 to 5.4% in 2001, with a peak at 6.1% in 1997. The latest figures show another increase.

Huma: Who are today’s poor workers?

OLM: Firstly, they are people who do not have a stable job, who are therefore in a precarious situation, people who have no choice but to accept a part-time job, certain self-employed people and single-parent families who are, by definition, more vulnerable. Overall, the hardest hit are those who have a low level of qualifications.

Huma: Is poverty defined only by revenue from work and state allowances?

OLM: There are different ways of measuring poverty although there is not necessarily a consensus on what poverty is. The classic monetary criteria which declares as poor any household whose revenue is beneath the poverty line, which is drawn at 60% of a country’s median average revenue. But poverty can also be measured by looking at living conditions. For this type of poverty, many variables come into account, such as the ability to heat one’s home, to eat meat and fish regularly, to buy new shoes, to go on holiday, to take out loans, to pay one’s bills etc. The difference with monetary poverty is that there is no reference threshold below which such or such a household is declared poor on the grounds of its living conditions. Lastly, poverty can also be assessed from a subjective point of view, by gauging the feeling of poverty among people.

Huma: Does being employed have an influence on the feeling of poverty?

OLM: Our study (1) enabled us to see how being actively occupied influences the relationship between three types of poverty: monetary, subjective and by living conditions. We distinguished three groups. Firstly, there are people who find it unacceptable to feel poor although they have a job. These are people who have always worked in difficult conditions, are fairly old and have few qualifications. The second group is made up of people who believe that the most important thing is to have a job, even if it only brings them a meagre revenue. The fact that they have a job means that these people do not feel poor, even though according to the criteria of monetary and living conditions, they are, objectively, poor. Finally, the third group includes those who are resigned to their situation and are waiting for it to change. They express feelings of helplessness in relation to their life and show neither protestation nor pride like the other groups.

(1) “Les actifs en situation de pauvreté : quelles expériences de la pauvreté?” ("People in work and in poverty: how is poverty experienced?") by Elodie David, Anne Dujin, Christine Olm and Marie-Odile Simon. Cahier de recherche n°227, novembre 2006 CREDOC.

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