During her 38-year career as a sales and marketing manager, Christine Jagueneau had no plans to retire. But when his job at a French industrial company was cut short of his 59th birthday last February, the decision to retire was unexpectedly urgent.
Even after about a dozen interviews, he said, employers said he was too old to be hired. He has enough money to meet his 62 year old French retirement age. effectively closed in the French labor market.
Mrs. Jagueneau, who is eager to work, is frustrated by collecting unemployment for the first time in her life. “But it’s impossible for older people to find work, because companies in France won’t hire them.”
As President Emmanuel Macron begins to overhaul France’s expensive and generous pension plan to save money, the idea of forcing people to delay retirement has sparked outrage. Polls show that four out of five people oppose raising the limit, and the country is preparing for violent international protests from this week, as unions and workers of all stripes oppose efforts to change the totem that has long been seen as the third party in politics. the railway is French.
“Retirement is considered sacred,” said Luc Rouban, senior researcher at the Center for Political Research at SciencesPo in Paris. “For many people, it’s like reaching paradise.”
But the debate has also cast a shadowy light on a larger problem that often flies under the radar in France: an issue that is often characterized by ageism in a country where millions of jobseekers want to work, but find themselves locked out. labor market before reaching retirement age.
In a recent survey by Indeed France, the country’s largest online careers agency, a quarter of over-55 job applicants reported being told by employers that they were too old to qualify. Four out of 10 employers surveyed by Indeed said they did not want to hire anyone over the age of 45. And a quarter of companies admitted they would hire a young person for less than an older person.
Charles Chantala, who is the CEO of Indeed said: “Even though they have experienced many useful things, many times older workers are rejected by the people who hire them, who have attitudes about age. These include concerns about health and fitness, salary commensurate with experience, training in the latest technology and the idea that people close to retirement may only be around for a few years.
It is a problem that has been known for a long time. Although age discrimination is illegal in France, France was called out for age discrimination in a 2014 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which said “misconceptions of older people in the workplace” prevented French employers from hiring workers. more than 55. .
France’s employment rate shows a sharp drop in the number of working-age adults. More than half of French people aged between 55 and 64 work, one of the lowest in Europe, according to Eurostat. By the age of 60, less than a third are working – less than half the rate found in Germany and the Nordic countries.
Due to France’s history, labor unions – including those who have been open to Macron’s reforms in the past – have warned that removing the retirement age will only create a larger pool of unemployed seniors.
“Half of the elderly are no longer employed by the age of 62 when they retire,” Laurent Berger, head of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor, told French radio. “First, we must try to keep them employed.”
Ms. Jagueneau has seen this problem during her job search throughout the year. Over the course of nearly ten years, he rose to senior positions in sales and marketing in the French plastics industry.
When his job at a French company in Indre in central France was cut last February, he wasn’t worried – at first. “I’ve never been unemployed, and I didn’t want to be: I’m a soldier,” he said. I thought I would get a job easily because of my skills and abilities.
Ms. Jagueneau applied for more than 70 jobs, many of which were listed on online job boards that required applicants to enter their age before submitting their application form or CV. She lowered her salary expectations and took courses to improve her digital marketing skills.
But in the job interviews, she said, nothing seemed to matter as her age approached. “As soon as I started talking to recruiters, they told me, ‘Listen, madam: At 59, you will only be working for a few years,'” she recalls. “Employers put my CV aside, or better yet slam the door in front of me.”
Events like this are not unusual for French people over the age of 55, said Rouban, of SciencesPo. “It’s not like in the United States, where it’s easy to get a job even when you’re older,” he said. “In France, you are seen as very rejected, not productive or profitable and more expensive than young people. So many old people who receive wages are afraid of this change.”
Mrs. Jagueneau is trying to overcome obstacles. He recently created his own startup to advise entrepreneurs on how to sell and sell products effectively. But with four out of 10 schools failing in France, he is worried about what could happen if his infrastructure is built. Because he is over 55, his unemployment benefits in France can last for three years. But it will run out before he receives his pension as Mr Macron is about to retire. After that, France’s limited investment would begin.
But goodness is not what he wants. “Telling people to work longer hours without addressing the real issue of senior employment is hypocritical,” said Ms. Jagueneau. “I am concerned that we are seeing the end of the French alliance,” he added.
President Macron’s government has insisted that raising the retirement age will help older people work. The retirement age in France was last raised in 2010, to 62 from 60 (which at the time was the lowest in Europe), millions of elderly people remained in the labor market for a long time, according to a study by the French Treasury.
But the reform also expanded the group of older people who became unemployed and economically inactive for reasons related to health or disability. And those over 55 were half as likely to find new jobs as young and middle-aged workers, the survey showed.
In an attempt to resist the reform of pensions, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne last week unveiled measures that she said would improve the situation, including an increase of 100 euros in the monthly pension, to €1,200 (about $1,300), and an exemption for those who started. working at a young age in tedious work retiring early.
To help older workers stay on the job longer, the government would require companies to set up a policy of publicly disclosing their salaries for senior jobs, and provide information about training opportunities for those over 55. Seniors would be able to retire before age 64 under the new reform. .
But without a big change in employers’ attitudes, these measures could be a band-aid for a bigger problem, said Patrick Artus, an economist at the French bank Natixis and an adviser to the Macron government.
“We have a big problem in France, which is the lack of companies willing to keep older workers,” said Artus. “If the effect of this change is to increase the number of elderly people who are unemployed because companies are still not hiring, then this change will not work.”
Tom Nouvian contributed reports.