French Lessons

France has a growing middle class. The United States has a shrinking middle class.

I realize that Americans are reluctant to learn from other countries (most prominent example: healthcare, where we insist on spending twice as much for much poorer results, because hey! we’re Amurica and we know best about everything…), but we really could learn a lot if we were so inclined.

According to the Washington Spectator (link unavailable), America’s middle class has dropped from 60% of all households in the 1980s to 50% in the mid 2010s. Meanwhile, the French middle class rose from 60% to 68%.

The poverty rate for U.S. children in two-parent families in 2010 was 13.7%; in France, it was 8.2%. (That was for children in two-parent families. For all American children, the child poverty rate is 21%; in France, it is 5.7%. As the Spectator points out, the damaging effects of growing up poor are well-documented and socially undesirable.

Why the difference? What does France do right that we don’t?

Although the article fails to mention it, that health care system I referenced is a huge asset to French families, especially families with children. Just knowing that an unexpected illness won’t wipe you out is a big stress reliever, as is the knowledge that you can take a sick child to the doctor without the visit making you late with the rent.

Although the article doesn’t mention health care, it does focus on three other aspects of French social policy that are very different from ours, and that the author finds particularly important: paid parental leave, affordable child care and the French tax system.

In France, paid family leave replaces 100% of the average wages earned by women in the three months following birth or adoption. Eight weeks of paid leave are mandatory, although many businesses offer more. The U.S., in contrast, is the only developed nation that does not have a national paid leave program; as a result, some 25% of new mothers return to work within ten days of giving birth. (It hurts even to type that statistic; I remember how long it took me to feel up to par after childbirth!)

The French child-care system is even more impressive to someone like me, who struggled to find adequate childcare despite having the financial wherewithal to pay for it. France has creches–childcare centers for infants and toddlers under 3–and part-time centers that operate both before and after school. There are other centers that open on days when school is out, and during summer vacations. And all of them are subsidized by the French government. The cost to a family is approximately $1.25 per hour per child.

In the U.S., the after-tax cost of childcare is equal to 38% of average U.S. wages, one of the things that makes parenting an expensive proposition and is a disincentive to women with children entering the workforce.

Finally, French families with children are taxed at a lower rate than families without children. The disparity in tax rates, the maternal leave policy and the generous subsidies for comprehensive child care are all justified by the French belief that children are an investment in the future of the nation.

Clearly,  American policymakers don’t see it that way.


  1. Can statistics be found between red and blue states here at home to reflect the same levels of beneficial differences? For one; the “health care system” in many states is now actually the “medical profit system”; care has diminished while costs continue to soar. Affordable quality education systems (for all ages) differs between states at a level comparable to different countries. The tax system is now out of control nationally while income levels (either through employment, retirement or Social Security systems) have stagnated in many states. Indiana is an excellent example of that stagnation and our former governor is now in a position at the federal level to continue increasing taxes and further stagnating our income levels. Child care facilities are sadly lacking in oversight for safe, healthy, protected child care at reasonable rates. The subject of corporations providing child care facilities on-site hasn’t been heard of for decades…not here in Indiana.

    France is an excellent choice of foreign country to compare our deficits to; a sad situation due to our president doing his best to insult and alienate them as one of our staunchest allies. He doesn’t have the vision or the intelligence to consider comparing our deficits, it isn’t profitable. The theme song from Muhammad Ali’s movie, “The Greatest”, says “…the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way…”. Long before Hillary Clinton’s book was published, many African tribes believed and lived up to the words, “It takes a village to raise a child.” People of my generation and some of my children’s generation know and lived by the meaning of those words.

    Yesterday President Obama gave a speech which, to me, signaled the official opening of the mid-year Democratic election campaign. His strong stand throughout his campaign and his administration, and the work of Michelle Obama, never lost sight of the importance of educating our children…ALL OF OUR CHILDREN. As with this country’s medical care system’s downfall; the education system is fast becoming the “education religious and profit system”.

    Hail France!


  2. How do they do it? In France, taxes are 45% of GDP compared to 26% in the U.S. And their social security spending exceeds that of the national government.

    What’s the right mix? I don’t know. But it would be beneficial to have a legislative branch that would have an intelligent conversation about this.

    Reminds me of a Mark Twain joke. “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”

  3. John; I wonder what the percentages are between the number of multi-millionaires and billionaires in France compared to the U.S. Personal greed and government assistance allowing greed are probably factors in the answer to your question, “How do they do it?”


  4. After exemptions per dependent, American families are taxed at a lower rate, as well. As a single woman without children, I have willingly paid property taxes for education, but I always felt a little bit taken when I paid more in other taxes while using fewer services. In essence, I helped my boss pay for his seven children, even though he made twice what I did. Not what I saw as a fair deal. Maybe I’m wrong?


  5. It always took a village to raise our children, because the population of the village saw that it was an investment in their survival. That “village” began before humans built houses. But now, our villages are towns and cities where not everyone knows everyone else. With that comes a general lack of trust in child rearing. We, in this country, because of our mindless pursuit of money, have shredded the quaint notion of the “village” as child protector, educator and healer. Instead we have become self-absorbed to the point of ignoring, indeed resisting, our own best interests.

    We’ve thrashed the for-profit health care problems for years, but all the money people want is MORE profit and less social service. Why? So they can have more. It’s always more.

    Our brand of runaway capitalism is our worst enemy, socially, and we continue to wallow in our own stupidity and greed. Republicanism carries that banner of selfishness, self-aggrandizement, self-centeredness, self-absorption and its first cousin, narcissism. As Obama said, Trump is a symptom of our demise, not the cause of it.

  6. Vernon and John own today’s post. I especially like Vernon’s comment:

    “Our brand of runaway capitalism is our worst enemy, socially, and we continue to wallow in our own stupidity and greed.”

    While I like Obama, his Citibank administration did much damage by promoting greed and American Exceptionalism for 8 solid years.

    He could have chosen a different path…the one he spoke about on the campaign trail, but he took the path paved by greed and money.

    He could have used his time to point out the corruption between industry and our government, but instead, his bailout programs and not prosecuting banksters, fueled the anti-government crowd which led to Trump.

    One of many missed opportunities for one of the two corporate owned and controlled political parties in our capitalistic system.

    The plight of this country has been handed us by a government without the will or inclination to remove itself from millionaire status under Capitalist ownership and serve the people as intended. And the same goes for our Fourth Branch of government or the free press. Journalism now is referred to as “storytelling”.

    I’m bored just typing out that term…

  7. Vive l’ France!!

    The speech made by former President Barack Obama yesterday was a true delight to listen to. It should serve as a battle cry to what needs to be done to get this creeping crud and represents what’s left of the Republican Party out of power. The fact that he zeroed in on what it has become was the best part of a speech and given the gravitas he has as a former President, mated up with his own eloquence, he summed up how everything is been turned inside out which I, personally, have been waiting for for a long time. The fact that he is the one that had to do this speaks volumes as well and shows how few real statesmen we have today. This speech made me feel that there is a distinct possibility that there is indeed a light at the end of this tunnel and a road back from the brink as we are now.

    VOTE BLUE!!!

    VOTE BLUE!!!

    VOTE BLUE!!!

  8. Todd,

    “While I like Obama, his Citibank administration did much damage by promoting greed and American Exceptionalism for 8 solid years.

    He could have chosen a different path…the one he spoke about on the campaign trail, but he took the path paved by greed and money.

    He could have used his time to point out the corruption between industry and our government, but instead, his bailout programs and not prosecuting banksters, fueled the anti-government crowd which led to Trump.”

    Ditto. Especially, your last phrase: “fueled the anti-government crowd which led to Trump.”



    We need to do much more than just to VOTE BLUE!

  9. I can’t recall any comment made to Sheila’s blogs in opposition. I don’t read it a second time later in the day. I only see comments by JoAnn, Nancy, Todd, Vernon, Peggy, the usual early riser suspects. I sometimes share it with non-subscriber friends and family who think like I do. The result is that vitally important information like today’s never is sent to “those people” who need to read stuff like this. I have 3 nephews who already are certain I’m guaranteed to roast in hell because of my political and atheist beliefs. Why waste their time and reinforce their MAGA dedication? Ditto my fellow residents of this retirement village who also live in their own political/religious bubble. Today’s “French Lessons” won’t appear in the Indianapolis Star or The Oklahoman or Tulsa World. While listening to Obama yesterday I could smell from afar the burning hair of the few MAGA devotees listening. Yes, VOTE BLUE and hope ‘we’ outnumber ‘them’.

  10. Todd, I agree with your thoughts above.

    I have an answer to JoAnn’s question about -> Can statistics be found between red and blue states here at home to reflect the same levels of beneficial differences? For one; the “health care system” in many states is now actually the “medical profit system”; care has diminished while costs continue to soar.

    The study itself was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It’s unusual because most big studies examine the United States as a whole, and yet there’s a vast disparity of health and longevity among the states. There’s a massive disparity among U.S. states in terms of how long people live.

    1. Minnesota: average, 78.7 years
    51. Mississippi: average, 71.8 years (Includes DC)
    42. Indiana: average, 74.8 years

    There are sources I found for instance – In 1960, Americans had the highest life expectancy of any country in the world. But today, the US has plummeted to the bottom of the list of countries with a similar GDP and high average income, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    There are numerous other statistical studies that prove the US System is the most expensive, compared to the major industrial countries, plus our life expectancy is lower.

    As I have noted here before HR 676 Enhanced Medicare for All would solve our Health Care Problems in terms of availability and cost – Everyone in nobody out. HR 676 has 123 Co-Sponsors in the House. Nancy Pelosi our so-called Leader of the Democrats in the House is NOT a Co-Sponsor.

    One more quick example of American backwardness – We refuse to adopt the Metric System in our everyday lives.

  11. Vernon,

    “As Obama said, Trump is a symptom of our demise, not the cause of it.”

    O.K. Agreed. Now tell us, Mr. ex-President, what the CAUSE is for once. It is “clear as day.” Can’t you do better than the likes of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center?

  12. Bill Clinton repealed the remains of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, ending banking regulations. George W took full advantage of this economic opportunity to fill the coffers of the 1-2%, which included the Bush family. The BILLIONS OF DOLLARS George W gave away before leaving office; meant to aid students, those losing homes, the jobless, the low to middle class in general, never came about because banks and corporations on the receiving end increased their CEO salaries, perks and benefits and kept the money.

    All of this was inherited by President Obama whose greatest error was not to allow Bush’s tax cut to the wealthy to end on the date Bush himself set. He was, and IS, if you watched his speech yesterday, still carrying “The Audacity of Hope” in his heart. So do I; but I see no help coming from the evangelical conservatives until the current administration is evicted from OUR White House by whatever manner it takes.

    As an aside; referring to that 14 day jail sentence for Papadopolous…what the hell is the difference between “lying” and “perjury???


  13. The McMega-Media has focused on Obama’s remarks as it relates to President Agent Orange – Pastor Pence Regime.

    Obama said that progressives “aren’t just running on good old ideas like a higher minimum wage, they’re running on good new ideas like Medicare for all, giving workers seats on corporate boards, reversing the most egregious corporate tax cuts to make sure college students graduate debt-free.”
    Wow, sounds like Bernie Sanders. Hopefully, Obama will provide full endorsement of HR 676 Enhanced Medicare For All.

  14. The game of red and blue!.. it is totally false – that isn’t what is killing this country. What is killing this country is the greed and ease at which thieves and corrupt entities can manipulate our government with money. And NOW the floodgates are completely open. All I see are people talking and rehashing this or that tweet and the armchair experts sit and discuss ‘how we should proceed’… right: Well you have Novembers Vote, step one. Barring that you have only one other recourse: ‘Whenever the government becomes destructive of these ends…’ Everyone is talking the Constitution and forgets WHAT this nation was founded on – FREEDOM FROM TYRANNY AND CORRUPTION. It is time we all took the Declaration of Independence to heart and started applying it in every legal way we can on every level of government it is time to rid the government of RATS! from the top – down!

  15. Because we all take comfort in scapegoating, those “others” are the cause of everything while “we” are largely victims of their malevolence. That is the common theme among American discourse. “They” are the cause of “our” demise.

    Humans are as humans act.

    Of course what’s more likely is that many of these symptoms of the stuff hitting the fan are merely reflective of our culture adapting to the perceived environment of stuff hitting the fan. It’s both all and none of us who are responsible. We are all part of a much greater whole as are our Presidents and corporate leaders and health care providers and street people and police and Congress people.

    What does that mean in terms of what we can do? Are the forces which define human life on earth changing and is our cultural adaptation reflective of them bigger than any individual can manage but in the range of what changes culture?

    Yes, of course we are largely part of a much larger picture and our fretting is reaction rather than pro-action and we are getting ready for something different than what we are used to.

    Welcome to the new resource constrained over populated highly connected wealth distribution failed migration of goods and people correction. Is anyone really surprised?

  16. I have read Sheila’s source today from the Washington Spectator, and it reinforces what I have read elsewhere, to wit: France is widely acknowledged to have the best healthcare system in the world, and at something over one half of our cost per capita. How do they do it? Well, for one, they are not paying HMO executives and shareholders with what should be money paid for real healthcare. Another is that they don’t have privately owned insurance companies setting coverage terms. I could cite others to explain the discrepancy in costs between their system and ours (if one may call our system a system).
    Yes, they pay higher taxes than we do, but netwise, their take home income is higher than ours because they have no healthcare and negligible childcare costs, among other government-supported expenses, so, like the Danes, they are a happy and healthy and prosperous nation and, contrary to right wing propaganda courtesy of Fox and Republicans, have a prosperous market-based (and well regulated) economy where the middle class is expanding and business is good while ours is shrinking for average Americans because of all the costs we as individuals must bear in an under-regulated economy owned by Wall Street and reinforced by their congressional lackeys while individuals have to fend for themselves with wage inequality, unemployment, medical costs etc., all while the already rich get tax breaks in the trillions.
    Here 41% of all bankruptcy cases are filed because of medical expenses that petitioners cannot pay; in France thenumber is 0. There education is free or almost so; here we have students who are in penury for years following their graduation. I could go on and on with other flashpoints which have led me to conclude that capitalism as currently practiced here may not be worth saving and that, if there is no regulatory relief and other reforms, we are headed for the cliff inasmuch as current policy calls for us to continue to further enrich the already rich and ignore investment of our future, i.e., the health and education of our children, our rights as stakeholders in this economy etc.
    Needless to repeat, we need to either rein in this runaway system or go over the economic cliff along with the paid-off congressional lemmings because, as I frequently write here and elsewhere, I am trying to save capitalism, if the capitalists will let me.

  17. O.K. I’m off topic. I apologize. Never-the-less I am going to do an even more ridiculous thing. I’m going to raise a problem without offering a solution in the hope that someone else might be able to do so. Frankly I expect Crickets.

    I think the main reason for our vitriolic political discourse is that we don’t live in “Villages” anymore. When I was a child I lived in Cincinnati and the entire neighborhood acted as a village. Most everybody knew everyone else. I can’t tell you how often I was greeted with, “Hey, it’s Mac’s boy,” or “Mac and Helen’s boy.” People legitimately cared about each other.

    Now no one even KNOWS another. We are self-isolated. Alone with our computers and cable networks.

    When my dad was dying everyone knew and most everyone helped. Financially we were strapped but the local grocery store gave mom credit. Now there are no “village” groceries, only chains–and no credit. She was offered a job when he could no longer work by the (privately owned) bakery owner downstairs in our apartment building. The doctor not only made house calls, in my family’s case he did it for free. Now he’d be barred from such a practice by his “partners” in his medical consortium or whatever they call it. He’d have to bill at least minimum amounts or be fined or tossed out. I could go on.

    No one cares because no one KNOWS the other.

    How can we fix it? I sure as hell don’t know. What I do know is that corporations and politicians are able to do things to us that are unheard of because no one KNOWS the other and as a result VERY FEW CARE.

    There was a time when labor and churches were the voice of the people. Now the Republicans “own” most churches and labor has been decimated–and not only that–labor doesn’t CARE either. There is NO VOICE except women and kids–and thank God for them. Men seemed to have vanished or are hidden away in various hate groups.

    What do we do?
    How do we do it?

    Ideas . . . . . ?

  18. Bravo Gerald! Your comment went up while I was writing my own, else I would have cited it. Again, Bravo!

  19. In general, the lifestyle advantages of Europeans are explained by the belief that (1) the wealth of the nation leads to greater prosperity when it is shared by all of society, and (2) there is little or no correlation between how much money you have and how successful your life is. In America, to the contrary, we most admire the Bezos and Gates approach of sucking the air out of the economy by confining wealth to a handful. In France, if there is any pleasure greater than joining friends at a sidewalk café for good coffee and great conversation it has yet to be discovered. In Germany high school friends meet once a week for a lifetime at a Stammtisch in a local Biergarten for the same reason or get together for a Fußball game. And don’t ever dare to try to occupy a reserved table at an Italian taverna. When we tried to purchase tickets for an opera during a three-year stay in Germany, we were told they were unavailable because the local unions had purchased them all. This spirit of enjoyment is most closely captured by the German word Gemütlichkeit for which the best definition is the festivity and closeness felt by groups of friends deeply enjoying one another’s company, ideally with a mug of beer and great food and music in the background.

    Michael Moore filmed a European tour which included conversations with factory owners. When the awesome level of benefits provided employees came up, the employers commented, “Why should we keep that money for ourselves? We already have enough.” That’s the most un-American thing I’ve ever heard, and one of the most beautiful.

    In America we talk our values. In Europe, they live them.

  20. My wife and I grew up in a village of 10K people in the 40s and 50s when global population was about 2B+. We are now 3-4X that.

    It was as Wray describes above, an extended family with all of the good and bad in that. Then I thought that it was fairly dysfunctional but didn’t have now to compare it with.

    Maybe that was the functional capacity for humans of the earth?

  21. Gerald,

    Thanks for summarizing three of my books in today’s blog.


    Thanks for corroborating my comments above.

  22. Wray; you may not necessarily be off topic. We got the bottom line, the dry facts; there is no information about the French people themselves or their life styles. Maybe they live in neighborly neighborhoods, those “villages” a few of us remember; maybe their interactions and personal connections with supportive networks is one reason their government is succeeding and our’s is not. I have commented before on my own small neighborhood, never really neighborly; a few conversations about street conditions, weather damage but no real friendships and no conversations about politics or politicians. Until the fall of 2016 when Trump yard signs sprang up on all 4 streets in here. Today, they ignore my passing on daily walks other than occasionally returning a wave. The neighbor man who was actually my friend and also the handyman who kept my house from collapsing, the friend I went to in hysterics when I got news my son was found dead. He stayed with me, making phone calls, till my family arrived, ignores my texts and refused to answer about working for me. Just sayin’

  23. JoAnn

    I am sorry to hear about your neighbor who has turned his back. It is a symptom of Trump-time. Sad, evil and frustrating.

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