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12/14/2012 01:23 PM

Unemployment and Poverty

Young French Losing Hope as Prospects Fade

By Julia Amalia Heyer

As in other struggling European economies, the youth of France face dire prospects. Some 26 percent are unemployed, and almost as many live in poverty. Though the problem has been there for decades, ambitious political programs have improved little.

He would prefer to travel to Paris more often, but the ticket costs €6.40 ($8.37), which is usually too much. He can only manage it twice a month, says Kafui Affram. Just 11 stations separate Lieusaint Moissy and Paris Châtelet. It's a 40-minute trip between two worlds, from a southeastern banlieue, or low-income suburb, to the capital's downtown area.

Affram doesn't feel at home in either environment, not in the suburb where the 22-year-old still lives in his childhood room in his parents' little house, and not in Paris, where he'd like to see a current exhibition on Salvador Dalí, the Spanish surrealist artist. That is, if he had the money.

The son of Ghanaian immigrants was born and raised in France. He isn't angry about his situation, just "young and tired," he says. "I know I should be optimistic and have goals, but it's mostly all just bleak."

Beyond France's ailing economy, there is another disastrous statistic at play. Some 23 percent of the country's 18- to 24-year-olds live in poverty, according to a study by the National Institute for Youth and Community Education (INJEP). These are mainly high school or university dropouts who have little to no access to health care and limited chances of improving their situations.

Affram failed his university entrance qualification exams twice, finally taking out a loan to secure entry into a private art college. He completed a program in web design, but only worked in the field for two months.

Decades of Despair

The French state has categorized circumstances like Affram's as "very precarious." This gives him the right to government assistance in finding his place in French society. Three times a week, he visits the Mission locale, a sort of welfare agency with career counselling for unemployed young people. Here, he meets an adviser who tries to help him reconcile his dreams with reality.

Youth unemployment in France has been high for some time, but it has now climbed to 26 percent. For decades, regardless of their political affiliation, lawmakers have been promising to create a better situation for young people. But exactly the opposite has happened. Labor laws protect those who already enjoy steady jobs, while the economic crisis and recession have limited the number of new jobs created. Meanwhile, housing has become both scarcer and pricier.

"Something must finally be done," says Didier Dugast, director of the Mission locale in Moissy, who reports that the number of those seeking his assistance has been jumping by some 10 percent each year.

A new program from Socialist President François Hollande for the creation of "future jobs" has been in effect since November. It targets people much like Affram. But he just shrugs his shoulders and says: "We're used to politicians constantly coming up with new ideas."

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