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Paris When It Sizzles

     The First Employment Contract (CPE is its French abbreviation), signed into law April 2 by President Jacques Chirac, eases restrictions on employers. It allows them to fire workers under the age of 26 without getting entangled in the massive French bureaucracy.

     The plan would encourage employers to hire more young workers, because bosses wont be fearful of penalties and costs that come with firing workers. It comes at an important time Frances unemployment rate for young workers is about 22 percent.

     Yet, the media have focused on business firing not hiring. In Paris today and all across France, tens of thousands of students took to the streets, demanding a fair chance at a job and protesting a new law that could make it easier to fire younger workers, said NBCs Campbell Brown on the March 23 Nightly News.

     But thats not the end of the story. Frances socialistic welfare system is showing more of its flaws. Its safety nets are supported by income taxes of up to 48 percent and corporate taxes of up to 34 percent. Young people, mostly Muslims, rioted last fall saying they were shut out of the job market, which prompted the creation of the new law that now has youth in an uproar again.

     As the Cato Institutes Michael Tanner wrote during the November 2005 riots, taxes consume nearly 44 percent of Frances GDP. And Frances Social Security system? Underfunded and in debt, possibly to the tune of 200 percent of the countrys GDP. French unemployment overall is twice that of the United States, while its economic growth is less than half of U.S. growth.

     American journalists have long been enamored of the French system, as the Business & Media Institute has shown. Although their 35-hour work week was partly rolled back last year, as ABCs David Wright said on the March 28 World News Tonight, French workers are used to the good life. Wright explained: They get five weeks vacation a year. And its extremely hard to fire them. One in four young people here are unemployed, in part because French companies dont want to promise them a job for life. Wright said that Business owners like the new law but a majority of the population here likes it the old way.

     Many of those who like it the old way have been showing up on American broadcasts. CNNs Jim Bittermann highlighted student protesters on the March 30 Your World Today. The young revolutionaries who have been leading the charge against authority insist theyre not just trying to cling to past privileges; they want something done to help one young person in four who cant find a job, Bittermann said.

     Of course, as Tanner pointed out, the generosity of French welfare offers little incentive for the unemployed to look for work. The result is a growing population of idle, disillusioned poor with little connection to society at large.

     But when Bittermann asked student protester Jean-Baptiste Prevost, You dont see a link between the social protections and the unemployment rate? the student replied, Not at all. Not at all.

     NBCs Keith Miller said on the March 28 Nightly News that the idea has ignited widespread anger from the very people it was supposed to help the young. The only person Miller included in his report was a disgruntled French student who accused the French government of sacrificing its youth. CBSs Sheila MacVicar echoed one of the popular phrases circulating among news reports on the April 2 Sunday Morning: The demonstrators say this would make them the Kleenex generation: use and throw away.

     There was an irony in the student protests that few journalists captured, however. USA Todays Jeffrey Stinson on April 4 actually interviewed a Sorbonne University student who wasnt protesting. In fact, 19-year-old Guillaume de Jesse told him he saw a big contradiction in middle-class and upper middle-class university students protesting a law designed to help less-educated, less-advantaged workers. Because the law allows workers a trial period to see if employer and employee are happy with the arrangement, de Jesse said it could help unskilled youths break into the job market.

     MacVicar was one of few broadcast journalists who explained the French situation a bit more, saying that the French social system, source of so much pride, which provides support and care from the baby buggy to retirement and in between education, health care, parental care, worker protection, short working weeks and long vacations no longer works.

     But networks werent rushing to point out that the law wasnt as revolutionary as French students indicated. As USA Todays Stinson reported: the CPE would seem to have little effect on young French workers. Young workers often go from job to job on short-term contracts of six months to two years until they find a long-term, indefinite contract with an employer that provides more security and more lucrative benefits.


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