The jobs situation in France is turning into a private sector fiasco: temporary jobs, a good gauge for the direction of that fiasco, got whacked again. On the other hand, the public sector—huge, with central government outlays amounting to 56% of GDP—is a source of stability, albeit an expensive one.
Unemployment, which has been getting worse since May 2011, a year before Socialist François Hollande became President, is over 10% and youth unemployment over 25%. In many areas, such as the volatile suburbs north and east of Paris, it’s much worse. Jobs would help calm the waters. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon, apparently.
That gauge for future employment trends, temporary jobs, slumped 4% in September from August, and is down a dizzying 11.6% from September last year. It was spread across just about all industries, in line with the broad-based decline of the private sector.
So it’s not surprising that the French would become disillusioned with their government, but the speed with which it happened is. President François Hollande is in a relentless slide. In November, only 41% of the French saw him favorably, down from 42% in October. That fate is normally reserved for presidents much later in their term; Nicolas Sarkozy was still levitating at 58% six months in his term. Hollande has become “unpopular,” with 53% of the French having turned against him. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is on the road to political perdition: only 38% of the French still approve of him.
With approval ratings this low, the government is nervously trying to figure out how to reform the economy, from lowering employment taxes and charges in order to bring down the cost of labor to raising taxes in a myriad ways in order to keep the budget deficit from careening out of control. Even sacred cows are losing their sacredness. The tab for the benefits promised in prior decades is coming due—a nasty surprise in the middle of a debt crisis. It’s a tough time to be a Socialist President.
But what galls the government the most is the media’s focus on these issues, it seems. During a debate at an entrepreneur conference, Economy Minister Pierre Moscovici lashed out: he was troubled to “read in the papers that ‘exile begins, companies are fleeing,’“ he said about an issue that is becoming a fact of life. He lamented the barrage of attacks on the government’s economic policies that are “in vogue in France and abroad.” And he had a special rhetorical flourish: “Le French bashing is terrible.”
He shouldn’t blame the messenger. The government, and that includes him, has simply done a lousy job in “communicating.” It hasn’t even tried to inculcate the media with terms like green shoots that people might be seeing soon everywhere, and hope that people might be feeling, and change that they could believe in.
The playbook has been written. All the government needs to do is translate it into French. A year later, when green shoots has become a term of derision, the government might come up with something else. But at least for a while, as people are fanning out to look for these green shoots, the government would have some breathing room. And Hollande’s ratings might even tick up a bit. Hope is a powerful thing—the opium of the people, so to speak.