Friday, August 27, 2010

I don't want to work because...

My coworker was so irritated today that she complained about the French social system in front of me. Apparently, she received an email from her husband saying that their house keeper is quitting. When asking her why, her reply:"I can not work over 15 hours a week else I will lose my stipend from RSA."

This coworker earns a good living and her husband works like crazy as he is holding an important position. Due to their above average household income, they need to pay the maximum prices for most of the services for children: canteen, childcare, extra-curriculum activities...and her housekeeper is only three years older than her. Her point is, they are in the high income group but they work hard and pay a lot of taxes, which end up helping these people who want to work minimum. These group of people will complain about their shrimpy retirement even though they are the one at fault since they prefer to work minimum when they are young.

Listening to her, I could only smile. This is one of the fundamental problems of the social systems. Every helps start with a good purpose, but it couldn't prevent people from abusing it. A good control is necessary, but how to distinguish someone who couldn't find a job (thus should get minimum help) from someone who prefer to work the least possible to be able to receive help?


  1. Well the problem is also that wages are so low that it takes a lot of work to only cover the loss of a social help. Moreover, RMI and RSA which are meant for the really lowest incomes, come with a wealth of advantages like free public transport, "social" energy fees and such.
    So making a single step over the social help treshold is quite hard to compensate.
    Anyway, the RSA social help (for a single person with no child and no income) amounts to 460€/month, that's to say that it hardly covers rent for an appartment in a city, even in social lodging (HLM).

    And as a last point, France is a country where education and diplomas are very important to find a job. So once a person has dropped out of the education system, it will be very hard for him to find something else than minimum wages jobs.
    Surely your coworker and her husband are working very hard.
    But how many hours does she think that an housekeeper has to work to make as much money as her ?
    Surely more than 100 hours a week.

  2. So do you think it is normal to have a system that discourages people from working more?

    For me it is not normal at all. I come from a society where if you do not work you get nothing. So maybe the help is too high that people are not being put in situation where they just need to work more? As a tax payer that contributes to the society, I would prefer the money being used for good purposes like researches, health cares...than financing people like that. For you information, I know of a guy who graduated from Engineering school and decided to not work after graduation. He got a house from his parents and gets RMI from the government. The system actually allows him to stay unemployed as he gets enough to continue his life.

  3. I don't think that the system works perfectly. As you said, there are a lot of "threshold effects" that discourages people to do the right thing. But I wanted to press the point that there is more to this than sheer laziness.
    About the housekeeper case, it is also likely that she spends the rest of her time beyond the 15hr/week doing some undeclared job ("au black").
    You say that maybe the help is too high that people prefer getting it that working. I'm just saying that we should consider also that maybe wages are too low that even the most basic social help (once again, less that 500€/month) seems more attractive.

    Then again, it is something that the governments try to address. The RSA came in replacement of the RMI (insertion minimum income) because the RMI was cut off as soon as the person got a job, even a few hours a week, thus discouraging people to work (or to declare their work). The RSA can be combined with a salary when you work up to half-time (that's where the 15hrs/week come from, I guess), but if you work more than half time than your salary should be enough income and the help is cut off.

    The rationale behind this system is also that it costs more to deal with people when they are homeless, sick or delinquent than to give them enough money to maintain them into the society.

    Of course, you'll always find people abusing the system, but there is no proof that they are the majority (and seeing our current government, you can be sure that if such a proof existed, they would be all too happy to cut off every single aid).