In January of this year, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, decided to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and 57 to 59 for garbage collectors. Many French citizens didn’t agree with this bill being adopted, making it clear that this bill was not going to pass in Parliament. President Macron used his constitutional powers to make it a new law without a vote. This bold move enraged French citizens, with recent polls suggesting that 80% of the French population deemed the President’s move unfair. Even amongst Macron supporters, 58% did not agree with how he pushed his bill through without a vote.
This led to riots and protests throughout Paris with garbage collectors, public transport workers, and teachers going on strike. Now, the streets of Paris are filled with garbage, public transport is unreliable, and many in France are strategizing on how to reverse the new retirement law.
Despite orders from the French Police to resume garbage collecting, the gridlock in the city has made it difficult for anyone to pass. The situation became more dire as the police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds, which consequently inflamed tensions even more.
Why is President Macron fueling tensions with his retirement agenda when it clearly is not popular with his people? France has one of the lowest retirement ages amongst industrialized nations with the most expensive pension plan for retirees and social support systems, such as free health care. These social expenses are paid by heavily taxing those who work.
France had increased its retirement age from 60 to 62 in 2010 with similar protests, but is still facing a shortfall in funding its expensive social system. The solution lies in either cutting some of these social supports, such as pension for retirees, increasing taxes, or increasing the retirement age. Although the saying “work hard, play hard” has been an integral part of American culture, “work hard and retire early” seems to be the culture in Europe and even more so in France. The pandemic and work from home has intensified this debate as many are rethinking their life goals and work/life balance.
Will the work/life balance and desire to retire early move to the center of American politics? Benefits such as Social Security are available as early as 66 years and two months for Americans, with an increase to 67 years for those born after 1960. With people living longer and working less, France’s economic problem may soon become ours if we don’t learn from their mistakes.
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