Paris Youths Occupy Mansion to Protest Lack of Jobs

Paris Youths Occupy Mansion to Protest Lack of Jobs
Paris Youths Occupy Mansion to Protest Lack of Jobs
Lisa Bryant

The economic crisis has taken a toll on young Europeans - especially in France, where nearly one in four French between the ages of 15 and 25  is unemployed. Now a group of young Parisians has found an imaginative way to publicize their plight - by taking over one of the city's most elegant addresses.

Tourists often pause before the 17th-century stone mansion across from the Place des Vosges. It was once home to the Marquise de Sevigne, a witty French socialite during the days of Louis XIV. More recently it stood unoccupied - until a group of young squatters moved in two weeks ago, to protest the lack of jobs and affordable housing in France.

Thirty-year-old Laurent Dubouchet shows a visitor around the mansion. He is a painter and one of the oldest in the group. The rest - about 40 of them - are students and workers in their twenties. The first squatters began moving in two weeks ago. They're still  arriving - along with a couple of cats, which prowl in the courtyard.

Many of them have part time jobs - but they can't live on their wages. Dubouchet says finding a full-time job is very difficult.

"I look for jobs. Everybody here is looking for jobs, part-time jobs, any kind of thing," said Laurent Dubouchet.

BRYANT: "What do people tell you?

DUBOUCHET: "There is no job. That is what people tell me. There is no job."

The group calls itself Black Thursday, in memory of the 1929 stock market crash in the United States. But this latest financial crisis has wreaked havoc on economies worldwide - including in France, where the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 10 percent of the population is unemployed. That is one of the highest rates in Europe. Young French are even harder hit - 24 percent of them cannot find work.

Anne Sonnet is an OECD economist specializing in the youth labor market. She says there are a number of factors explaining high youth unemployment here.

"It's partly because of education qualifications," said Anne Sonnet. "Very often they are not well prepared for the labor market mix. And often it's because of the barriers in the labor market. There are many barriers concerning the relatively high minimum wage. The minimum wage is relatively high compared to the [average] wage in France so it's a barrier when you don't have any qualifications and when you start your career."

Sonnet says young people coming from poor and immigrant families are particularly disadvantaged. France is not the only country where young people are having a hard time. The OECD reports more than one in three young Spaniards is unemployed. Youth unemployment in Italy, Greece, Sweden and Slovakia is also high.

In France, the government is pushing a raft of measures to help young people find jobs, including emphasizing apprenticeships. But the young squatters at Place des Voges say they have little faith in the government. Meanwhile, they say, they have gotten support from their rich neighbors -- some of whom have dropped with food. Even the owner of the mansion they are squatting in has shown some sympathy for their cause.

But one local resident, who gives her name as Nadja, says the young people have no right to squat.

Nadja says that squatting is not going to solve France's unemployment problem.

For their part, the squatters hope to take advantage of a French law preventing authorities from evicting tenants during the winter months. So far, they say, the local police have been very helpful and friendly.

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