French government unveils €6.5 billion plan to help young unemployed
The French prime minister has announced an “innovative” €6.5 million “youth plan” to help young people particularly hard hit by the coronavirus crisis.
When he first laid out his political roadmap in early July, the newly-appointed prime minister Jean Castex said “fighting unemployment will be our absolute priority over the next 18 months”.
The need to create jobs for youngsters is pressing indeed. As companies lay off staff in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, young people are the first out the door.
They also have an outsized presence in sectors like tourism and hospitality which have suffered greatly due to health and travel restrictions introduced to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a result, the labour ministry anticipates that as many as 320,000 young people will be registering at job-seeker centres this summer. Youth unemployment, currently running at around 20 percent, could hit 30 percent.
"We’re putting exceptional measures into place because we know that in times of crisis, [young people] are the ones that suffer the most,” Castex said on Thursday.
The plan focuses on encouraging companies to hire youngsters through financial incentives.
Companies hiring someone under the age of 25, between August 2020 and January 2021, will get a €4,000 rebate on its social charges bill.
The government hopes to sign 450,000 contracts of this type this year.
It also encourages companies to hire apprentices: €5,000 for hiring an apprentice (alternating work and study) under the age of 18 and €8,000 for one over 18.
The plan will boost investment for training programmes in growth sectors such as digital technology, health, green energies, agriculture and industry.
Some 750,000 newly-qualified young people are due to join the job market this summer, at a time when France's economy is expected to shrink by as much as 11 percent.
The government hopes to delay the arrival of at least some of these youngsters. It has created 200,000 new places in vocational higher education where students could study for an extra term or year.
For those struggling the most to find work, some 300,000 individualised programmes will be set up as part of the "1jeune1solution" (a youngster, a solution) plan.
The system of civic service is to be reinforced, offering 100,000 extra assignments in a range of charities and associations.
An ongoing battle
France has long struggled to provide long-term jobs for its young people.
President Emmanuel Macron has pushed through reforms to free up France’s highly regulated job market and incentivise the hiring of apprentices.
They have borne some fruit and unemployment was falling slightly before the crisis.
But despite the reforms, in the fourth quarter of 2019, the rate of youth unemployment was above 20 percent, making it the fourth highest in Europe behind Greece, Spain and Italy, according to the OECD.
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