Rising unemployment creates France's "Generation Slog"

Thu Apr 25, 2013 9:05am EDT
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By Catherine Bremer

PARIS (Reuters) - When she embarked on a university degree at 18, Caroline never imagined she would still be living like a student a decade later, unable to land a permanent job and stuck in a cramped spare room in her father's flat.

An engaging 27-year-old with a literature degree and a masters in communications, she is one of hundreds of thousands of young French graduates stuck in a cycle of short-term job contracts and bouts of unemployment that is stunting their career potential.

Twenty-somethings are bearing the brunt of a stagnant economy that has sent overall unemployment lurching towards 11 percent and could set a record for jobless claims when March data land on Thursday.

"My dad can't understand why I don't have a proper job. He says: you have qualifications and experience, what's the problem?" said Caroline, preferring not to give her full name, as she toured the stands at a Paris jobs fair.

At 24.4 percent, youth unemployment in the euro zone's second biggest economy is inching towards the afflicted league of Spain, Italy and Greece and away from Germany where only 8 percent of 15 to 24-year-olds are out of work.

It exposes the failings of an "ins" and "outs" system where companies are loath to add to their permanent staff, who enjoy strong job protection under French labor laws. Instead employers use temporary contracts to pick up and drop young workers as business fluctuates.

In a two-year surge in unemployment, permanent job offers have shrunk and short-term hiring has reached a 13-year high.

Four out of five jobs offered today are on contracts lasting a few months or weeks, and most go to young people.   Continued...

A job seeker waits inside a National Agency for Employment (Pole Emploi) in Marseille March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier