Reversal or inflection of the unemployment and communication trend
When he announced in September 2012 that 2013 would see a ” reversal of the unemployment trend,” François Hollande has surprised the vast majority of observers and raised widespread universal skepticism. The tenacity, if not the obstinacy, with which he defended this forecast throughout the year, soon reduced to an objective, made it a major marker of his political action and as such, of his five year term. He clearly staked his credibility on the achievement of this outcome.
As a result, on December 26 at 6 pm, French media and politics stopped to check out the unemployment figures as of late November. The attention paid to such a publication has never been stronger. And since then, the highest government authorities have scale up efforts to demonstrate that they reflect an improvement. Without really convincing as these explanations are too complex and thus tedious.
It is faced with a dual obvious fact: in November the number of job seekers with no occupation (category A) has increased by 17,800 following a fall of 20,500 in October and, during the first eleven months of 2013, it has grown by more than 150 000 people. It has therefore become difficult to establish a reversal of the trend even though one has to acknowledge that the speed of progress, on a monthly basis, has significantly been reduced from a monthly average of more than 30,000 in the first quarter to more than 18,000 in the second quarter, then more than 5500 in the third quarter, and to less than 1,350 in the first two months of the fourth quarter (October and November).
Hence the will of the Government to take the two last months as a basis or to reason in terms of quarters. The interpretation of the unemployment figures is all the more tenuous that there are two other categories of job seekers referred to as B and C (those with limited labour-force participation) that have evolved in the opposite direction of the category A in the last few months. Add to this some specific indicators, such as long-term unemployed or those over 50 or under 25, that woud give everyone, on the occasion of each monthly publication, a reason for hope or despair depending on his/her political affiliation.
In terms of communication, François Hollande and his ministers risk locking themselves into a quarrel renewed on a monthly basis, undermining their credibility, especially as, at the same time, the media will continue to focus on corporate insolvencies and massive layoff plans. This frequent and growing gap between optimistic official statements and negative public’s perception could ultimately deprive the « reversal » of all meaning when it occurs, if it occurs.
The alternative would be to recognize that the goal is harder to achieve than expected due to a sluggish growth recovery and therefore to urge the French to have patience. It would, in terms of communication, make sens and be effective only if it goes hand in hand with the announcement of corrective measures. And thus of a change in the stance, if not a reversal, of the economic and social policy.