In Europe, Millions of Jobless Are Falling Through the Cracks

On a typical day, he woke at 5 a.m. to work a business breakfast at one end of Paris, then headed to another part of town to service a glittering political or social dinner ending after midnight. Grabbing a few hours of sleep, he headed to a fresh gig in the morning, where he signed new temporary contracts all over again.

The work pulled in 3,000 euros ($3,500) a month — enough to pay living expenses, his €1,000 mortgage payment and support for his two teenage children. But his savings were liquidated last year when he and his wife divorced and he bought her share of the apartment, in Fresnes, a working-class suburb south of Paris.

When the pandemic wiped out his contracts, the catering firms that employed him put only permanent staff on furlough, reaping a subsidy from the government for not firing them.

Europe’s furlough subsidy programs don’t extend the same benefit to contract workers, throwing Mr. Hombert into an uncertain future.

His jobless benefits, which are less than half his normal income, last for only 180 days under unemployment rules governing the catering industry. After they expire in mid-August, he will go onto France’s basic welfare, which provides around €600 a month, not enough to take care of his expenses.

“Covid-19 has created a huge financial crisis,” said Mr. Hombert, who traded in his car, cut back on all but the basics and scrapped plans to take his children on vacation. “You try to plan two months out, but you can’t even do that,” he said. “Then you find yourself having to sell the apartment to get by.”

But engineering less pain may prove impossible. In Britain, the government also acted quickly to protect the economy, and was lauded for the scale of its measures. A plan to pay up to 80 percent of workers’ wages was announced before the nationwide lockdown went into force in March. By the middle of July, 9.5 million jobs had been furloughed.

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