Youth Unemployment and Youth Employment Policy - Lessons from France

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The current crisis is taking a heavy toll on young people. Between 2007 and 2010, the drop in employment rates in the 15-24 age group in the European Union (EU) was eight times higher than in the 15-64 age group (IRES 2011). In France, youth unemployment reached 23.8 per cent in December 2011 (22.1 per cent on average in the EU) whereas unemployment for the entire active population was 9.9 per cent (equal to that of the EU) (Eurostat data). The crisis has merely amplified what has become a quasi-structural phenomenon: in the past 30 years, the youth unemployment rate has never fallen below 15 per cent and has regularly exceeded 20 per cent (Aeberhardt, Crusson and Pommier 2011). Nevertheless, youth integration into the labour market has been an ongoing public policy objective since the end of the 1970s. It is impossible to study today’s young people without referring to the multiplicity of public measures. At the end of 2010, 665,000 young people benefited from government subsidised work contracts (contrats aidés) - in other words, close to one-quarter of the under-26 age group, compared to 4 per cent for the entire active population. This study examines youth integration into the labour market in France. In the first part, a diagnosis of youth over-unemployment from the point of view of their particular position on the labour market is presented. The high concentration of young people in insecure jobs (CDD and temporary work) explains their job-unemployment sensitivity to the economic cycle. Due to labour market segmentation, young people are integrated into sectors with a high labour rotation rate or in less skilled jobs. The second part of this analysis describes demographics in France and the role of the education system, both of which help to explain the significant drop in the number of working youth in the past 30 years and, in the meanwhile, the sharp rise in the proportion of young graduates. In the third part, the position of young women is examined in light of the inertia in both educational and professional career choices, but also the existence of job discrimination. The fourth part examines the hypothesis of excessive labour market rigidity and suggests potential responses, although these hypotheses have been called into question by the crisis. In the fifth and last part, the role of public policy in youth professional integration is re-examined, emphasising numerous potential levers of action. Should priority be given to obtaining recognised qualifications? Or to stimulating rapid immersion in the corporate environment through massive decreases in employer social contributions? Or to community service jobs in the non-trade sector for those who cannot find work in the private sector? In the past 30 years, public policy measures have combined these various approaches. Success has been limited and these measures sometimes produce adverse effects. Note, however, that the involvement of the social partners has been scant.


Florence Lefresne

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