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Boost for Macron as French unemployment drops to 15-year low

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'Target full employment,' the president wrote on Twitter./AFP
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Feb 15, 2023 - 01:51 AM

PARIS, FRANCE — French President Emmanuel Macron received a boost Tuesday with official figures showing unemployment fell to a 15-year low, as he seeks to push through a widely contested pension reform.

Statistics agency INSEE clocked unemployment at 7.2 percent in France in the last quarter of 2022, down to its lowest level since 2008.

The rate in 2008 was the same as a previous low in 1983, leading Macron and some government ministers to claim that joblessness was at its lowest level in four decades.

“Unemployment is at its lowest level for the second time in 40 years,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Target full employment.”

Macron came to power in 2017 promising to reduce France’s chronically high jobless rate through a series of pro-business reforms, including loosening employment law and cutting taxes.

Unemployment at the time of his first election was 9.5 percent.

The centrist government is currently struggling to push through a major reform of the pension system in the face of massive demonstrations and strikes that have seen more than a million people hit the streets to protest on some days.

The changes would see the legal retirement age increase to 64 from 62 and would raise the number of years of social security contributions in order for workers to claim a full pension.

Trade unions have vowed to “bring France to a standstill” in rolling strikes from March 7 unless Macron withdraws the draft legislation which is widely unpopular.

Economist Mathieu Plane from the French Economic Observatory at Sciences Po university in Paris said the latest unemployment figures were a “slight positive surprise”.

Data from INSEE showed job creation was “relatively stable” in the last quarter of 2022 after seven consecutive quarters of growth.

Yves Jauneau, a labour market expert at INSEE, told AFP that the employment rate of people aged 15-64 was 68.3 percent in the last quarter of 2022, “its highest level since 1975”.

The unemployment figure excludes Mayotte, a poverty-wracked Indian Ocean territory off the east coast of Africa, and the comparisons discount the fall in unemployment recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic when massive state aid guaranteed jobs nationwide.

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