The Spectacle Blog

France: Just As Good As The U.S.?

By on 5.1.07 | 7:02PM

For sheer ability to manipulate statistics, you can't do better than the Marc Weisbrot at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Here's a part of his argument on why economically France isn't any worse the U.S.:

Now for some arithmetic regarding France's notoriously high unemployment rate among young people, which shaped politics there and influenced world opinion during the youth riots in 2005. The standard measure of unemployment puts the unemployed in the numerator, and unemployed plus employed in the denominator (u/u+e). By this measure, French males age 15-24 have an unemployment rate of 20.8 percent, as compared to 11.8 percent for the US. But this difference is mainly because in France, there are proportionately many more young males who are not in the labor force - because more are in school, and because young people in France do not work part time while they are in school, as much as they do in the United States. Those who are not in the labor force are not counted in either the numerator or the denominator of the unemployment rate.

A better comparison then is to look at the number of unemployed divided by the population of those in the age group 15-24. By this measure, the U.S. comes in at 8.3 percent and France at 8.6 percent. Both countries have a serious unemployment problem among youth, and in both countries it is highly concentrated among racial/ethnic minorities. But the problem is not much worse in France than it is in the United States.

What Weisbrot doesn't reveal is the number of people not participating in the labor force in France and the U.S. for males age 15-24. But do a little math, and you figure out that in France there must be about 141 males age 15-24 who don't participate in the labor force for every 100 who do (20.8/(100+141) = 8.6 -- and if that confuses you, email me at dwhogberg@gmail.com and I will explain it to you). For the U.S., we have about 42 males not participating in the labor force for every 100 that do (11.8/(100+42) = 8.3).

Wow! That's quite a difference. One has to wonder why France has over three times as many males age 15-24 not participating in the labor force as the U.S. does. Weisbrot tries to explain it away by claiming "young people in France do not work part time while they are in school, as much as they do in the United States." But that just begs the question, why don't as many young people in France work part time while they are in school as they do in the U.S.? Raising that question, however, might lead to an answer that Weisbrot doesn't want his reader to come to: France's rigid labor market doesn't provide many part-time opportunities for youth.

As a final point, I don't fully buy the argument that the difference between France and the U.S. in non-participants in the labor force on the fact that French students don't work part time. That may be a partial explanation, but a much bigger factor is all of the youth in the Muslim ghettos in France who can't find work. (Indeed, Weisbrot subtly gives this away when he writes, "Both countries have a serious unemployment problem among youth, and in both countries it is highly concentrated among racial/ethnic minorities.")

That leads to another question that Weisbrot won't like: Why is the U.S. so much better a creating jobs for its immigrants than France is? Maybe it's that the U.S. is better than France economically.

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