As the unemployment rate in France rose once again above the symbolic level of 10% of the economically active population at the end of February 2005, and the rising cost of housing tends to reinforce the social and geographical segregation of the country, people are becoming worried. But how bad, in fact, is the gap between rich and poor? Is inequality becoming worse and, if so, how much worse?
As Louis Maurin, Director of the Observatoire des inégalités, argues here, it is still very hard to answer these questions. Because of the lack of indicators that are sufficiently relevant and comprehensive, the measurements of changes in income are only partial - in particular, a large part of inherited wealth is not covered - and furthermore involve serious lags: some of the figures available in 2005 date back to 1996! Despite these problems, when the available data are examined, it appears that - optical illusions aside - the poverty gap in terms of income is tending to become wider in France, and educational inequalities are also increasing, which will obviously make matters even worse in future.
Once again, France lacks satisfactory monitoring tools, a criticism often voiced in these pages. As a result, warning bells are not rung when they need to be and the authorities then do not take the steps that should be taken to deal with the country's problems. If inequalities are indeed increasing, we should not be surprised, says Louis Maurin, if this has an impact on social relations and even, in the longer term, on French democracy.