‘I’m not one to ask for pity, and I know there are many worse off than me, but it is becoming painful to be counting your pennies every month and to give up many of the little pleasures in life.’ This is the tale of Anne Larinier, 45, a nurse at Paris’ Saint-Joseph hospitals. She tells Marianne magazine that five years ago she and her family enjoyed pizza in a restaurant once or twice a month. Today, she serves pizza at home on a Saturday night. Two years ago she gave up on her love of theatre, and the last time she went to the cinema with her husband was to see the last episode of Star Wars (Revenge of the Sith which came out in 2005).
Anne is not the only one suffering. The woes of the ‘middle classes’ are growing, and the magazine is full of their tales of hardship: the 33-year-old forced to live in a flat-share in a Paris suburb because he can’t afford to rent on his own; the commuting postal worker whose standard of living slips each time petrol costs climb a centime. The article cites a study by Paris-I university and Paris’ Ecole d’economie that shows teachers are paid 20 percent less today than in 1981 (excluding inflation). Marianne says a ‘revolt of middle management’ is growing as they watch the gap between them and the big bosses grow.
What the article doesn’t say is why living standards are slipping. If you look at France’s growth rate over the past five years, the fall off should not be so dramatic given the environment of low inflation. Can the cut in purchasing power, a key issue in the presidential campaign, be the sole fault of the 35-hour work week, which has effectively frozen people’s salaries? Or is there something more sinister going on in France’s economy?
On the TV chat shows, each presidential candidate promises to jiggle the social security system to ease some of the suffering they are presented with. The real question is whether they have the right fomula to turn the economy around for everyone and reverse what is percieved at least as an inexorable sense of decline.