PARIS — France may be one of the most popular countries to visit as a tourist, but not everyone in France lives a picture-postcard life. Nearly nine million people in France, 14.1 percent of the population, live below the poverty line. Almost one in five people, 17.7 percent, live at risk of poverty in France. While there are many well-reported causes of poverty in France, here are some of the less well-known facts.
France’s unemployment rate has hovered close to 10 percent for the past five years. By comparison, the unemployment rate in the United Kingdom is 4.5 percent, which is just about the same as it is in the United States. Even more telling, France’s youth unemployment rate is 24 percent. That means approximately one in four young people in France is unemployed.
Although one-third of France’s impoverished are children, there is a great deal of diversity among those in need, including the working poor and those already receiving help from the government. Bernard Thibaud, director of the nonprofit Secours Catholique, says “Our welfare system helps them survive, but not to live. Only a permanent full-time job can really get someone out of poverty.”
Of those adults living below the poverty line, the unemployed are the hardest hit, with single parents coming in close second. On the positive side, the percentage of French people at risk of poverty is lower than those in Germany or Great Britain, and there are fewer impoverished elderly people in France than the average across European Union countries.
The decline of industry in France, as in the U.S. and many other countries, also contributes to poverty. Roubaix, for instance, a mill town on the border with Belgium, has a poverty rate of 45 percent. This is because of the foreign workers brought in after World War II to work in mills that have since shuttered. These workers are untrained, as are their children, for the high-paying, white collar jobs that remain.
While this may not be directly among the causes of poverty in France, misconceptions about the poor do not help. For instance, 70 percent believe it is easy to get benefits. In actuality, 68 percent of those eligible for basic unemployment benefits do not receive them because they lack some of the documentation required. In addition, 63 percent believe that those who get benefits are less inclined to look for work. However, when added up, the French who receive benefits earn about 65 percent of what they made while working, which, says economist Bruno Coquet, “is also the optimal rate to encourage the return to employment.”
There are many causes of poverty in France, but luckily, there are organizations working to alleviate it. In Paris, the Restos du Coeur distributes 600,000 meals a year, a third of which go to single mothers with children. The nonprofit Secours Populaire, which works to mitigate poverty in France and elsewhere, helps provide food aid to more than one million people.
Meanwhile, Essilor, a French ophthalmic corporation, offers reading glasses at reduced prices to the impoverished elderly by utilizing its supply chain partners and retailers throughout France. Their goal is to provide glasses to 300,000 people. Through organizations like these, poverty becomes less overwhelming in France.
– Laurie Gold