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France's growing poor: Where do they live?

Joshua Melvin · 28 Jan 2014, 13:55

Published: 28 Jan 2014 13:55 GMT+01:00

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The day after news broke that France’s unemployment rate has hit a record peak, a new study shows France is suffering from its highest rate of poverty since 1997.

The study from social policy consultants COMPAS shows that 8.7 million French people live below the poverty line, which in a nation of 66 million, represents around 14 percent of the population.

The northern city of Roubaix, near the border with Belgium topped the list with 45 percent of its residents living below the poverty line.

At the other end of the spectrum, wealthy Parisian suburbs of Neuilly, Versailles and Rueil Malmaison came in at the bottom of the study, with just seven percent of their residents living in poverty, according to the study which drew its data for the year 2011 and looked at France's 100 largest towns.

(This map is courtesy of the Nouvel Observateur. The full version can be seen here)

“There is a global poverty rate in France that masks the reality of people’s lives, which are very different,” COMPAS consultant Louis Maurin, author of the study, told The Local on Tuesday. “There is a gap, as there is for all countries, it’s maybe even larger in the UK than it is in France.”

To be considered to be living in poverty an individual must survive on €977 per month, after taxes and including government subsidies. That sum is 60 percent of the national average income. In 2010 17.1 percent of the population of the United Kingdom were officially living in poverty. In the United States 16 percent of the country were living under the poverty line in 2012 - which represents 47 million people. 

France’s rising rates of poverty may not come as a surprise with confirmation on Monday that the jobless rate has reached a record high - 11.1 percent. More than 3.3 million French workers have registered with the state as being unemployed.

There are other factors at play in certain parts of France with the hardest hit cities, such as Roubaix or Mulhouse, still suffering from France's declining industry and the subsequent loss of jobs, French magazine Nouvel Observateur reported.

The cities with large immigrant populations, like those along the southern rim of France, recorded higher rates of poverty, than those with smaller numbers of new arrivals. Higher rent prices and the amount of state-subsidized housing, were also factors in pushing poverty rates up and down in certain towns.

For example western France sees lower poverty rates generally because of the history of available support services to people living in poverty. But also the region has a generally healthy service economy that was less impacted by the decline of France’s industrial sector.

Not surprisingly nine out of the ten towns with the lowest poverty rates in France are found in the wealthy western Parisian suburbs and include Neuilly-sur-Seine, where former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s was once mayor, and Versailles.

The ten French towns with the lowest poverty rate. (Nouvel Obs)

Story continues below…

However, north-eastern suburbs like St. Denis and Aubervilliers had a 34 and 39 percent, respectively, rate of poverty.

“Greater Paris the perfect example of acute inequality. There is concentrated poverty in the north-eastern suburbs,” Maurin said. “Yet a large part of France’s wealth is situated in the western suburbs.”

The reputation of Paris having been completely gentrified is also clearly exaggerated with figures showing there are still thousands of people living in poverty in the eastern arrondissements.

Poverty in the famous Goutte d'Or behind the Gare du Nord rail station has reached 46 percent and is 53 percent at Pont-de-Flandre.

"Despite the rise in house prices big cities are still home to many poor people and in certain neighbourhoods the levels far exceed the national average," the authors of the study say.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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