Still, he said, a college degree is the best path to a job — only 10 percent of those with diplomas are unemployed after four years, while 40 percent of those without diplomas are jobless. However, the passage to finding that job is now longer, costly for the person and for the state. It also delays marriage, house ownership and retirement.
Forriez is friendly and resourceful, with a small gap in her teeth that the French call le dent du bonheur — the tooth of happiness. However, staying happy is also a job.
“You tell yourself that you went through a lot of trouble to pay for your studies,” she said. “It’s hard, and in the end you think: ‘Here I am. I did five years and made a lot of sacrifices, and for what? To make new ones, because I need money to live.’”
Psychologically, she said, it is difficult.
“I don’t say that there aren’t days when I crack, when I cry,” she said. “I don’t become hysterical, but I’m angry with the whole world.”
Sapin notes that French President Francois Hollande campaigned on promises to reduce unemployment among the young. The challenge, he said, is to “adapt education to the needs of the economy.” The socialist government is engaged in a difficult “social dialogue” with companies and unions to reshape work rules, ease entry into the labor market and make French companies more competitive by gradually shifting the cost of social benefits.
The heart of the negotiation, Sapin said, is to build more trust between unions and companies, to reduce “the culture of conflict” and create a more cooperative and flexible system, as in Germany, one that will allow for more “partial unemployment” in difficult times.
However, he noted that France’s budget to subsidize partial unemployment is 30 million euros, while Germany’s is 15 billion euros.
Such “structural” change, if it happens at all, takes time, providing little consolation for those caught in the trap of prolonged adolescence, with cycles of temporary work and unemployment.
Olivia Blondel had to go to London to find a job in her chosen field, textile design, after getting a master’s degree and paying for night classes in computer graphics, textile design, management and dressmaking. To get work experience, she did an internship on the black market.
“I tried to do 1,001 things with the pole emploi [the unemployment office], but it wasn’t working,” she said.
From 2006 to 2009, she could find nothing.
“I feel like there are so few jobs, or that there is a huge gap between what is offered and our skills,” she said.
Now, at 32, she is back in Paris after several months in Vietnam, aided by the unemployment office, but she has been without work since June, and she is still getting financial help from her retired parents — both of whom spent their entire careers at the same company. She gets about US$1,100 a month in unemployment benefits, but they will run out in a few months, and she lives in a tiny room in social housing.
“I’m convinced I’ll have money one day, and I’ll pay everyone back,” she said. “I’ll buy a house, even if it’s in the middle of nowhere.”
Additional reporting by Maia de la Baume and Stefania Rousselle