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You're right to look at the gross, not the net as Agnes did. But the numbers you give concern salaries above a certain level (about 130% of minimum wage). Beneath that level, employers get "relief" on social contributions, so they are less than 40%. On the minimum wage itself, I don't know the figure offhand, but the payroll contributions are not that high.
These cuts on low-salary payroll contributions were brought in gradually over the years to encourage hiring of unskilled workers. In the end, they produce a "perverse" or unintended effect of encouraging employers to keep as many employees as possible down in that low-contribution zone. (A "low-wages trap"). This is the main reason (imho) why the percentage of minimum-salary earners is high, as Munchau points out.
BTW, I think the median salary in France is about 130% of minimum salary, so we'd be talking about half the employee population in this lower-payroll contribution bracket.
The other thing I'd like to point out about what Agnes says is that the social contributions are deferred salary (health, pensions, unemployment insurance, etc). The true wages that correspond to the post you hold = the mass of your gross pay + employer contributions.
Personally, I think it would help the employment situation to bring employer contributions down, but paying for solidarity would have to be shifted elsewhere, on to income tax or a parallel tax most likely. Also the question would necessarily come up: who gets the money from the cut: the employer alone, the employee alone, or a share-out between the employer and the employee's salary?
The payroll contributions drop off quickly here as well. You'd pay very little income tax or social contributions on a minimum wage employee.
(If my questions are indiscreet, don't give indiscreet answers ;))
On the first, that would be a big change you're suggesting. I don't know how well it would work. An example is Medicaid in the States, but there are numerous problems there, particularly with low-wage earners who are not "poor" enough to qualify but don't get a scheme with their jobs, and aren't rich enough to fund their own.
But essentially, you seem to me to think that a private system (bar a kind of Medicaid) would be more efficient than the public health service à la française. Where do you think that public service goes wrong?
French health care reform : undermining the Government security net
That was the result of a research work I did for my former employer, the idea being to explain to a US board how the French health care system worked and why it was being reformed and so on.
I could set myself a target of making an update diary focused on answering your question.
When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
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