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French unemployment hits new record
[PARIS] Unemployment in France hit a new record in September, with official statistics published Friday showing 3.43 million people claimed jobless benefits.
The figures showed a rise of 19,200 people joining the jobless queue and come as President Francois Hollande marks the midway point in his troubled mandate.
Since his election in May 2012, unemployment has swelled by more than half a million people.
"Let's be honest: we're failing," Labour Minister Francois Rebsamen told Le Parisien newspaper. "As long as there isn't stronger growth, there won't be enough jobs created." He argued that the government's attempts to reform the labour market needed more time to take effect.
The government has introduced a much-vaunted but highly disputed "Responsibility Pact", which will cut social charges for businesses by 40 billion euros (US$51 billion) in exchange for them creating 500,000 jobs by 2017.
Given the parlous state of France's budget deficit, which is expected to remain above European Union limits until 2017, Hollande plans to finance the tax breaks with 50 billion euros in public spending cuts.
This has proved highly unpopular on the left flank of Hollande's ruling Socialist Party, which sees it as a gift to business.
France has halved its growth predictions for 2014 from one percent to 0.4 per cent. Its forecast for 2015 has dropped from 1.7 per cent to one percent growth.
Many economists believe an average of 1.5 per cent growth is needed to reduce unemployment.
"We probably need to wait for 2016 to see a decrease in unemployment," said Xavier Timbeau, an economist at the French Economic Observatory (OFCE) think-tank.