“Work against allowances”: TV not very realistic

Television has taken over quantified insights that make it possible for viewers to understand, through eloquent figures, real situations. This pedagogical objective is in itself laudable but it can come up against an uncontrolled complexity of the socio-fiscal legislation.

Simplification can then be more misleading than enlightening… especially when it is erroneous! Even in the absence of errors, reflection by typical case is risky, especially on TV sets, because the brevity of the chronicles does not allow to account for the multiple hypotheses and the limits of the exercise.

Misinterpretation of the socio-fiscal system

Let’s start with this example of an infographic on LCI about a recurring question: do benefits pay more than work? She says to the guest: “The danger with this is that it blocks people. The real issue is that there needs to be a real difference and a real gap between the remuneration for work and when you are not working. »

The opponent is obliged to some contortions because he takes for true “these two numbers displayed for ten minutes”. In this case, these figures show that a couple of unemployed would earn, thanks to allowances, 44 euros more than a couple of workers on the minimum wage.

Screenshot of the LCI 24H Pujadas broadcast of September 12, 2022

This infographic poses several problems. The most important thing is that it is false: the unemployed couple cannot combine unemployment benefits and RSA in the way described in the infographic. In addition, the simulation forgets family benefits despite the supposed presence of two children.

The monthly disposable income of the unemployed couple is not 44 euros higher but 788 euros lower than that of the employed couple

To put it simply, unemployment benefits are deducted from the RSA, the two benefits not being combined. Since the reform of the RSA and then the more recent one of housing allowances (APL), the benefits never compensate for a drop in professional income: by construction, they do not create a trap for inactivity or unemployment, which “blocking” of the resumption of work indicated by the guest.

The graph below shows the same typical case, purged of errors of interpretation of the socio-fiscal system. At the minimum wage, the unemployment benefit replacement rate is 69% of the previous salary for the small half of the unemployed who are eligible for it, knowing that more than half of job seekers do not receive any benefit.

By becoming unemployed, the couple with two children becomes eligible for APL, but loses the activity bonus (PA) – assuming that they actually use these benefits when they are entitled to them. Which is not at all self-evident when we know the high rates of non-use of aid and social minima.

In total, the monthly disposable income of the unemployed couple is not 44 euros higher but 788 euros lower than that of the employed couple. However, since the APL gain is greater than the loss of the activity bonus, the replacement rate on disposable income is 75% (and no longer 69%): the benefits partially compensate for the drop in income linked to job loss.

Apart from a few euros, the unemployed couple with two children studied by typical case is at the level of the poverty line: removing allowances in the name of “work value” would amount to plunging them into poverty

Note that this is only true in the presence of children. The same childless couple would see their replacement rate go from 69% (earned income) to 66% (disposable income) because at this level of income, a single person is not eligible for housing aid. The loss of employment entails that of the activity bonus, without this being compensated by any social assistance.

This illustrates the fact that the conclusions drawn from typical cases are not always robust to the choice of cases presented. In this case, the replacement rates on disposable incomes calculated here make a certain sense: they are higher for families with children, which partially protects children from the long-term harmful effects of poverty.

Let us add that, except for a few euros, the unemployed couple with two children studied by typical case is at the level of the poverty line (2,310 euros for this couple with two children in 2019): eliminating allowances in the name of the “value work” would mean plunging him into poverty.

Beyond the factual error, there is the question of the excessive simplification of the typical case and its reception by journalists, television viewers… and politicians.

Indeed, the horizon of benefits counts. From a professional perspective, and in the context of a transitional benefit, it would be risky for an unskilled individual to let two years pass before actively looking for a job, especially if he has children and rent.

Typical cases not always relevant

Moreover, some typical cases are also more relevant than others and, in the case that concerns us, it is rare, for example, for the spouses to be unemployed at the same time. Ultimately, why not, but the choice of the case seems more chosen for the induced representation (“unemployed couple”) than for its representativeness.

Similarly, a rent of 1,300 euros for a couple who earned 2,600 euros monthly before being unemployed does not seem very plausible. In general, an analysis by typical case should be supplemented by a statistical clarification of the most frequent situations.

The analysis of typical cases is an important but difficult exercise: it is necessary to know the socio-fiscal legislation well, to ensure that the case proposed is representative of a real situation, to present the limits in terms of horizon and recourse to benefits and, above all, to ensure that they have a good understanding of the system.

The Ministry of Solidarity and Health provides everyone with a model for calculating rights: EDIFIS. If in doubt, it is recommended to go and have a look, whether you are a citizen… or a journalist.

“Work against allowances”: TV not very realistic