They are young, they are French and they are part of what is known as Generation Y.
A generation less than 30 years old, they are said to number 13 million in France, or about one fifth of the population.
They are also called digital natives – raised on the internet – they are connected, they are informed but they are also feeling increasingly sidelined by an older generation which they say does not help them when it comes to finding work, housing and overall responsibility.
Ophelie Latil is 28 years old. She is about to finish a short-term work contract with little prospects of being hired full time.
She also belongs to a movement called ‘Generation Precaire’ meaning “precarious generation”. A generation she says is being increasingly sacrificed; paying not only for the economic crisis but for a retiring baby boom generation.
“There’s a sort of humiliation. The idea that we’ve studied, we’ve invested a lot, we’ve asked others to invest in us both financially and emotionally and we really believed what we were told in school or during our internships,” said Ophelie.
“They say ‘You’ll see, you will earn 40,000 euros per year. A glorious future awaits you’. And it’s only at the end that you realise that you’re in debt, that you can’t find somewhere to live, you can’t find work and the only offers are internships, not even short-term contracts. The problem is that no one tells you that in France less than 10 percent of internships end up with a full work contract. So 90 percent of interns end up looking for work after their last internship.”
Michael Attia is 29 years old and unemployed. The start-up company where he worked for the past 18 months went bankrupt.
Like Ophelie, he belongs to the ‘Generation Precarious’ movement. And like Ophelie, he feels his generation is over-educated and over-qualified but under-paid or not paid at all in return.
And when it comes to the presidential elections, Generation Y has come up with an original idea to rate the candidates.
Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch – those names have come to symbolise the frustration of many who feel that they have lost control to these credit agencies which, for decades, have rated everything from banks to products to countries.
But for Generation Y, their answer is something they call ‘Young and Poor’.
It is a new agency which rates each presidential candidate on its campaign proposals regarding the young – from job opportunities to social integration and the overall grades are not good.
Michael Attia told us: “What we wanted to hear was not just vague campaign proposals with little substance. We want the candidates to go deeper, to follow through on their proposals so that in the end, these proposals can help young people enter the job market, and actively participate and integrate into today’s society.”
But how to convince young people that today’s presidential candidates can represent them? A recent opinion poll showed that only 20 percent of younger French people believes politics can improve their lives.
This is the goal behind an association called ACLEFEU,
(Association Collectif Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, Ensemble, Unis) – the acronym also means stop the fires.
It was born out of the frustration when back in 2005 riots and fires erupted in Paris’ troubled suburbs – areas known for high unemployment, violence and segregation.
Mohamed Tiba is optimistic. He says using one’s right to vote is a key step to change.
“It a conscious awakening. That’s it. Because in 2005, they told us, burn cars, get mad, etc, etc. I completely agree with this idea of protest but not the burning. For us, the best way to fight injustice is to use the means, our rights as French citizens. Don’t forget that the right to sign petitions is part of our history. It’s also symbolic. So we really are using the means, the tools behind our very Republic to be heard. And we’re all children of the French Republic. We may be children of immigrants but we’re all children of the Republic. We are all French.”
In France, as throughout most of Europe, it is those under 30 who have been hit hardest by the economic crisis. A generation whose number one concern is jobs. And they are not just in the cities.
Near the French town of Bourg-en-Bresse, not far from the Swiss border, Gael Teissier runs a goat farm with his aunt and uncle. He is 26-years-old.
Gael admits he is lucky. He loves his farm but it is hard work. High taxes, fluctuating market prices and a lack of political support for an industry which was long the pride of France has left Gael somewhat sceptical about campaign promises.
“We don’t feel like they’re really paying attention to us. They go to the inner-cities and that’s good but here, we haven’t seen any presidential candidate. We have local elected officials or deputies who come here on a regular basis and are involved. But when you go a bit higher, well, we don’t burn cars, it’s sad to say it that way and too bad since we have as many things to say.”
Having something to say about their future is a common thread between France’s urban and rural Generation Y.
In the last 20 years, the number of farmers under the age of 30 has decreased by more than half. Today there are fewer than 25,000 who want to work the land.
“I’m a big defender of voting. People died so we could have the right to vote. So it’s very important, even if it’s just to express yourself, your ideas. That’s the way we can change things. It’s fine to criticise all the time but then, oh yeah, I didn’t vote. Well, then no one heard your idea. There are candidates. You have to look at their programme. Maybe there are some who motivate or interest us. Candidates we might want to see. Young people need to rally, to get active if they want to be heard. That’s how it starts,” Gael added.
Getting active and taking charge of their future. This is the idea behind AJ Stage, a small start up firm in Paris which helps both companies and students find each other in the world of internships.
It is a growing business. The number of internships in France has jumped from 800,000 to over 1.5 million in the past four years.
But Amaury Montmoreau says students’ rights are protected. His own experience as an intern has made this a priority.
“I’ve been down the internship route. I’m in contact with interns all the time, I talk to them every day on the phone, and I know that it isn’t always easy. But it’s true that there has been a change in mentalities. More and more people understand the real value of an internship and how it helps train and prepare a student,” said Montmoreau.
Kevin Goncalves is a business student. He also got an internship through AJ Stage.
Like Amaury he agrees internships are necessary to enter the job market especially when the unemployment rate among France’s young generation is almost 22 per cent. Not as high as other European countries but more than twice the French national average.
Kevin Goncalves told euronews: “Lately, we’ve been talking about this phenomenon called Generation Y, a term born out of all these social networks, internet, mobile phones, a connection to the world, to events, in real time. And it’s true that politicians, even if they went to all these top schools, there’s always a bit of a time gap for them when it comes to real time. It’s true that some of the main issues of this elections are the young and jobs but I don’t think there’s enough. Regarding the campaigns, the proposals, there are some but nothing very concrete, there’s just not enough.”
Failing to understand the next generation is nothing new. However, voting abstention among the French young is expected to reach record levels. More than a third have said they will not vote.
A sign that for Generation Y, politicians need to work on the answers.