[From 2004, when the intermittents threatened to halt the Cannes film festival] Reproduced by kind permission of Placide
France is facing a major budget deficit, estimated at 30 billion dollars (90% of its GDP). One of the biggest problems is that it has one of the highest government costs in the world: 56% of GDP, the second highest in the EU, while the economy is actually shrinking.
One of the things that have come under scrutiny has been the cost of the intermittents du spectacle. An intermittent is an actor or technician in the entertainment business who does not work full-time.
In the U.S., actors are on their own, and are probably waiting tables or tending bar in their ample free time. But in France, would-be actors get a major subsidy from the government. Basically, if they have paid work three months and ten days a year as an actor, the government steps in to pay them the rest of the time, at a better rate than for other people who work part-time. As you can imagine, a lot more people think it's a good idea to become actors under this regime. France has about 100,000 intermittents, or 3% of the people who receive unemployment compensation. In comparison, the number of actors in the U.S., whose population is five times bigger than France's, is estimated at roughly 70,000.
The problem is that subsidizing the intermittents costs more than a billion euros a year, which amounts to one-third of France's unemployment insurance deficit. I guess this is a good example of the cultural exception!