France: Poverty takes root and feminizes

Women and immigrants living in France have been hit hardest in France by the global economic crisis, according to Secours Catholique. Women account for 57 percent of people seeking help from this member organization of the Social Watch network, almost 10 percent more than a decade ago. In the past decade, poverty in France, far from diminishing, has taken root. Getting out of the poverty trap is taking longer than ever before.

In its most recent periodic report, Secours Catholique found that almost a million and a half poor people are living today in the European country. The variation in absolute terms since 2001 is very light – there were 1.387.000 poor people living then in France, and there are 1.422.000 today –, but “the undeniable deterioration in the labor market has become even more hypothetical” the chances of escaping from poverty, said the statistical study.

While poverty appeared to be the result of temporary difficulties in employment in 2001, sixty-five percent of the families were living permanently in this condition in 2011. Furthermore, taking into account not the individuals below the poverty line but the families, the percentage has increased from 47 to 53 between 2001 and 2011.

Secours Catholique estimates that 14 percent of the French population lived in poverty in 2011, which it defined as about 950 euros a month for an individual or 2,000 euros for a couple with two children. Two-thirds of the poor people living in France were unemployed last year, compared to 58 percent a decade ago.

This escalation is explained by the greater number of single-parent households and by the feminization of poverty. In fact, 57 percent of poor adults are women, compared to 50 percent in 2001.

Unemployment has also gained ground among the people interviewed by Secours Catholique – 58 percent to 66 percent in 10 years. Meanwhile, the proportion of households without a regular income fell from 18 percent to 15 percent between 2001 and 2010, but increased slightly to 16 percent in 2011.

The cost of living of poor households increased significantly. Between 2001 and 2011, rents increased 21 percent for tenants assisted by the State and 26 percent in the private sector; the water, 38 percent (19 points above inflation); and the energy, 48 percent (29 points above inflation).

The situation of foreigners (30 percent of the poor people identified by Secours Catholique) has also deteriorated significantly, with a quality of life 40 percent lower than the average of the French population.


Precariousness is transmitted from generation to generation

The poverty is not the direct result of a specific problem, but responds to several hurdles (employment, housing, health, etc.) that require more long-term assistance. Sixty-eight percent of households facing extreme poverty receive an income of less than 640 euros (the poverty line amounts to a monthly income of 964 euros).

Fifty-seven percent of poor adults living were women in 2011. The increase is due primarily to the increase in the number of single parent households, that represent 58 percent of the families seeking aid, with women in overwhelming numbers the single heads of households. About 160,000 women raise their children alone, while only 20,000 men lead single-parent families.

The situation of poor families has deteriorated significantly over the past decade. Between 2001 and 2011 there was an increase of six points in the number of families who have appealed to Secours Catholique’s support services.

The economic crisis has accelerated the fall of couples with children into poverty, but especially among single parents, whose poverty is rooted and affects children permanently.

More information
Statistical Report (Secours Catholique, in French):

Secours Catholique (in French):