Not working is often more interesting than earning the minimum wage, with supporting figures

In France, the debate on welfare is raging. A local elected official demonstrates that by working on the minimum wage, the gain compared to social assistance is derisory.

Working or living on social assistance, a French dilemma? The subject is sensitive and divisive. Part of the French population and the political class regularly denounce excessive assistantships which would discourage the return to employment. However, on closer inspection, the reality seems more complex. This is what Benoît Christian, municipal councilor responsible for employment in Angers, wishes to demonstrate very concretely, in a series of tweets dedicated to this subject.

Based on official figures from the Drees (for Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics), the elected official, an accountant by profession, compares the income of a household without professional activity benefiting from social assistance with those in a household where at least one member works, even part-time. First observation: working always pays more than living on aid alone. The difference is all the greater as the household is small.

But it’s when you dig deeper that the problem lies. Because these figures do not take into account the expenses induced by professional activity, which are sometimes heavy: transport costs, childcare, loss of certain rights and social tariffs… So many charges which seriously weigh on the gain linked to resuming employment.

Benoît Christian takes the example of a childless couple. Without activity, he receives 1,114 euros in aid per month (RSA, APL, etc.). If he switches to minimum wage, his income rises to 1,873 euros, or a gross gain of 759 euros. But once car-related costs (estimated at 333 euros per month) and the loss of certain related rights (72 euros) are deducted, the net gain drops to €354 per month. To obtain this amount, one of the spouses will have worked 133 hours. That’s a real gain of only 2.66 euros per hour, often for a difficult and unrewarding job, what’s more. We now understand that the incentive is weak…

And again, this calculation does not take into account a possible “HLM advantage”, which can represent up to 40% savings on rent compared to private housing. Not to mention the prohibitive cost of childcare, despite existing aid. So many elements that make returning to employment even less financially attractive.

Benoît Christian does not stop there, evoking the impact of undeclared work. Being paid 20 euros per hour undeclared allows you to earn as much in 2.5 days as by legally working on the minimum wage for a whole month! The temptation is great, even if it comes at the expense of social rights.

In conclusion, for Benoît Christian, the problem is not so much the level of social assistance as the low remuneration of work, in particular for low-skilled jobs.

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