The arrival of migrant workers in France followed the development of industrialization. The north and east of Seine-Saint-Denis welcomed many immigrants in search of employment.
Before the 20th century among the inmigrants were mostly the natives of neighboring countries, particularly Belgians, Italians, and Spaniards. The rate of migrant inflow was rather impressive: in 1921 52% of the population of Pierrefitte consisted of Belgians and Italians. By 1936 the population of the same town consisted of people of 22 nationalities. (Girault 1998)
North Africans arrived before 1914 in some industrial towns, including Aubervilliers and Saint Denis. After the WWII, reconstruction and rehabilitation of French economy needed more workforce, which was mostly replenished by foreigners, most of which in 1950s came from Mediterranean ( Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Maghreb), and cooperation agreements during 1960s allowed French Africans to join the inflow.
In 1975 one fourth of the population of Seine-Saint-Denis came from abroad, with an uneven distribution across cities (27,8% in Saint-Denis, 27 % to Aubervilliers ).
Since the industrialized past of its towns, Plaine Commune has been a reception and integration place for migrant population, which in 2009 represented over 29% of total population of Plaine Commune (vs Ile-de-France which has only 13% of foreign population on its territory). Overall, the population of Plaine Commune is represented by 134 nationalities.
From 1999 to 2010 Plaine Commune has experienced considerable demographic (16,2% , INSEE 2010) and economic growth (growth of private employment 38%, Pôle Emploi Service), but the social situation on the territory doesn’t improve.
Considerable part of Plaine Commune’s population is young – 38% (INSEE 2010), and diverse, as discussed before, yet Plaine Commune lacks resources to fully play its integration role.
Northern suburbs of Paris because of their heavy industrialization and crisis have known long periods of full employment and unemployment. According to the observations by IAU ÎdF in the 1990s the peripheral areas of Seine-Saint-Denis served as welcoming territories for those most heavily affected by the consequences of deindustrialization and crisis. In comparison to other departments of the Paris region, Seine Saint Denis had:
– The highest rates of unemployment, low wages, educational backwardness, large proportion of inhabitants with industrial professions and industrial enterprises being closed down;
– The lowest rate of graduates of higher education, educated in private schools, senior managers, intellectual professions.
Today’s population of Plaine Commune is characterized by the underrepresentation of highly educated professionals, even though their numbers grow in some neighborhoods. Those with higher education represent only 15% of the population (vs 36% in Île-de-France)
Crisis coupled with employment which becomes more and more precarious, insecure due to the practices of subcontracting, outsourcing, sharp decrease in demand for industrial professionals, increase inequality. With its 34, 2% of young unemployed (total percentage of unemployed on the territory is 20,8%, INSEE 2010), Plaine Commune’s population is struggling to enter the labor market. It is characterized by a level of training more suited to industrial sectors and often insertion on the labor market via low-skilled jobs. But the jobs suitable for the professional profile of Plaine Commune tend to decrease in favor of either more precarious ones, or those in tertiary sector, or those needing highly qualified professionals. This situation exposes the population to rising unemployment, job insecurity and poverty, strengthening the already existing inequality. Situations of extreme poverty become frequent; slums appear which reflect the extreme poverty in which part of the population lives.
Compared to the whole region, Plaine Commune is the area that concentrates the population with the lowest incomes. The median income is twice less than in Île-de-France (Table 6).
Table 6. Median income by territory.
Source : INSEE 2010, revenus fiscaux localisés par UC
|Territory||Median income, Euro per year||% compared to Île-de-France|
|Plaine Commune (without Saint-Ouen)||11 560||53%|
The poverty of the population has a strong impact on health condition, which is deteriorating: there’s an increased mortality of cardiovascular diseases, high rate of long-term illnesses, rare pathologies, etc. People on the territory are exposed to significant noise and air pollution. The unhealthy housing, poor food quality, reduced access to services result from difficult social and family situations, increase these risks. The territory is also faced with a lack of equipment in health services. (INSEE 2010)
This immense diversity marking the identity of Plaine Commune’s society can, depending on the relations inside the community, be at the same time an asset, a nourishing milieu, and challenge, because of population’s stigmatization, especially outside the territory. Migranti e precarie, migrants and the precarious, a term coined during EuroMayDay in Milan, describes rather well the image of the population of Plaine Commune. Moreover, there’s another sustained and feared image linked to the Parisian suburbs, les jeunes de banlieu, as described in a text of rapper Disiz La Peste, is a collective image of a young suburbanite, which assumes certain type of behavior, accent, appearance, consumption of drugs and alcohol, he kind of youth which provokes either condolence, or mockery, or fear. This image, escalated by media, is very difficult to correct. This kind of image acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, as some young suburbanites coming to Paris and knowing what behavior is expected of them, try to caricature the imposed image by vulgar speech, fixing aggressive look on passers-by or passengers of metro.
The territory and its population are so heavily stigmatized, that at the time of rehabilitation of La Courneuve, a rumor that ran in a small town of Domont, in which several households of la Cité des 4000 were going to be resettled, has sharply devalued buildings in the neighborhood where these families were going to be resettled. Some neighbors sold their houses, others, who were tenants in an old non-adjacent housing project, “predicted” that the neighborhood would become “a home for immigrants” and a “bunch of addicts” (Vieillard-Baron 1994). So it‘s a difficult task to change the current image of the territory and its people to a more attractive one.