Fighting social exclusion in rural areas
[ Summary ]
Social exclusion, a multidimensional phenomenon
1.2 How does the structural trend of
employment in Europe generate poverty?
In other words, to what extent does the mismatch between labour
supply and demand in Europe, the cause of unemployment, create
Between 1945 and 1975, Western Europe witnessed economic growth
essentially based on the concentration of businesses. The
considerable gains in productivity that resulted from this provided
more or less full employment in the industrialised countries. But
for the past twenty years or so, technological progress, the
globalisation of the economy and, more recently, of information
have called into question this situation. After agriculture and the
primary sector as a whole, the major firms in the secondary sector
have stopped creating jobs.
Today, the only sector that has the potential to create jobs is the
service sector, in addition to the precision instrument
manufacturing industry .
Consequently, the labour market has become much more demanding in
terms of training and professional experience. For unskilled
people, the prospect of being hired (in the past, agriculture or
industry supplied work) continues to dwindle. As for skilled young
people who have no professional experience, finding work is
Therefore, unemployment tends to affect the same people and the
same social categories, which is why long-term unemployment is so
high. People who have been without a job for one year or more
account for about 5% of the working population of the European
Union and up to 12% in Spain, 8% in Italy, and 7% in Ireland.
According to EUROSTAT, nearly half those unemployed were without
work in 1996 and 30% had been jobless for more than two years. The
social categories most affected by long-term unemployment are
- young people - unemployment is twice as high among young
people as in older age groups (up to four times in France and
Greece), although these past few years there has been a decline in
the number of young people without work and a rise in unemployment
among older people ;
- women - the relatively sharp increase in employment of women
between 1995 and 1998 did not prevent the average rate of
unemployment among women in the Union from remaining high during
this period, on average 3% above the rate for men.
To what extent is long-term unemployment a factor of poverty?
From solidarity among family members to State assistance, various
welfare mechanisms help cushion the effects of long-term
unemployment. But quite often it is the entire family that is
affected by long-term unemployment. In 1996, the proportion of
households with children where neither parent worked varied from 8%
in Italy to nearly 20%, or one family out of five, in the United
Kingdom . Single-parent homes (the parent usually being a woman)
also constitute the highest proportion of low-income people in most
Member States .
As for State assistance or welfare and unemployment benefits, there
are limits. For example, unemployment benefits stop after a year in
most countries of the Union, leading those who are still without
work at the end of this period to take any kind of work or to live
on income support in countries where that exists.
Sometimes contradictory trends emerge from the comparison between
social indicators and unemployment trends. Thus, in the United
Kingdom, a country whose unemployment rate has substantially
declined these past few years (8.2% in 1996 compared with 10.5% in
1993; respectively 6.5% and 8.1% for women), the income indicator
shows that in 1995-96, a quarter of the population and 34% of the
children were living below the poverty level .
Several reasons explain this paradox:
1) the income indicator measures the inequalities more so than
poverty - when higher-than-average incomes increase as a result of
economic growth, the median income increases from a statistical
point of view. However, this does not prevent an increase in the
poverty level, for the real income of the disadvantaged social
categories remains unchanged. More than the spread of poverty, it
is therefore the phenomenon of social “polarisation” that is the
problem. Thus, these past few years, absolute poverty in Europe has
declined, among other reasons because of a certain growth in
employment, and relative poverty has steadily increased;
2) the rise in poverty distorts unemployment-lowering mechanisms
- among the disadvantaged classes, the demand for jobs has gone
down because unskilled workers become discouraged over time and end
up no longer applying for jobs. This alters the unemployment rate
but does not affect the social indicators of poverty/exclusion;
3) finding a job is no longer enough to climb out of poverty -
job creation currently consists often in an increase in underpaid
jobs with no prospect of a career and unsteady and short-term jobs.
Therefore, the question that arises is the following: is it
possible to get out of the spiral fuelled by “low wages - unsteady
employment - job stagnation” which is plunging a growing number of
individuals and families into poverty? In other words, what
institutional support measures are relevant today when we talk
about integration or inclusion, given the inadequate anti-poverty
mechanisms whose only method is to put people back to work?
 European Commission, Directorate-General
for Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs,
Employment in Europe, 1997, p. 55-58
 Idem, Part 1, section 1, Recent employment
and unemployment trends, pp. 27-41
 The Economist, September 25th-October 1st.
1999, p 50
 See EUROSTAT, Statistics in brief, op. cit.
 The Economist, September 25th-October 1st.
1999, pp. 49-50