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French Jobless Rate Hits 14-year High, Govt Target in Doubt

Outside a French state employment agency, Pole Emploi
AFP | Getty Images
Outside a French state employment agency, Pole Emploi

France's unemployment rate hit a 14-year high in the first quarter of 2013, casting fresh doubt on President Francois Hollande's goal of reversing the rising jobless trend by year-end.

The jobless rate of 10.8 percent, published by the INSEE statistics agency on Thursday, was the highest on record since the first quarter of 1999.

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It was in line with a forecast of 10.9 percent in a Reuters poll and up from a revised 10.5 percent in the final quarter of 2012.

The euro zone's second-largest economy fell into a shallow recession in the first quarter and the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund both forecast that it will slightly contract overall in 2013.

All of the economists polled by Reuters said they believed the government would miss its target of reversing unemployment by year-end, a goal Hollande set a few months after winning power in May 2012 and says he will stand by despite widespread scepticism.

"It is hard to see how the jobless trend can come down before the end of the year," said ING economist Julien Manceaux, pointing at France's bleak economic outlook and lagging competitiveness.

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Among the unemployed, some are very sceptical about the chances of the job market improving any time soon.

"He is going to reverse the unemployment trend? Really? By doing what?" 38-year-old Astrid Mabiana, a mother of three who has been unemployed for most of the past four years, asked of Hollande's job pledge as she left an employment agency a few days ago.

Unemployment is expected to increase throughout the year, to hit 11.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 and stand at 11.2 percent for the full year, according to the Reuters poll of 12 French and international economists.

"It's really tough and it will get even tougher. With the crisis all there is is people getting fired," said 37 year-old Spaniard Juan, who didn't give his family name. After living in France for 10 years and working washing dishes in restaurants, he has been out of work for a year.

INSEE said that the quarterly unemployment data measured according to International Labour Organisation standards was only an estimate, pointing out to technical difficulties that include new procedures to collect data.

The data does not include the small overseas territory of Mayotte or give any of the usual additional information such as a breakdown of the youth unemployment rate, INSEE said.

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