The killing of the young man, 17-year-old Nael, by a policeman’s bullet and the riots that followed throughout France, shed light again on the French suburbs, especially on the so-called priority neighbourhoods.
The death of the boy, Nael, of Algerian origin, sparked clashes with security forces that spread to other cities across the country, and revived feelings of anger and distrust of the police, and it came after 13 people were killed last year because of their refusal to comply with traffic checks.
Here are 10 key figures for these disadvantaged neighborhoods:
Population and number of neighborhoods
5.2 million people live in these disadvantaged neighbourhoods, or about 8% of the population, according to data from the French National Statistical Institute (INSEE) for 2023.
It is still difficult to assess the numbers of residents living in the suburbs, because it does not represent a statistical standard for the French INSI Institute, and despite previous estimates, other estimates indicate that about 20 million people live in suburbs distributed over more than 3,300 municipalities.
And in 2014, the state identified 1,514 slums, which it defined as “priority neighborhoods for city policy.”
These neighborhoods – in their entirety – are large residential areas on the outskirts of major cities, former industrial areas, or neighborhoods far from the center of small and medium-sized cities.
Migrations and immigrants
According to data from the French National Institute of Statistics for 2021, about 23.6% of the residents of these neighborhoods were not born in France, compared to 10.3% in the rest of the country.
This rate rises in the densely populated Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis – which is one of the priority neighborhoods – to 30.9%, according to INSI data for 2020.
France has experienced two periods of mass immigration since 1945, beginning with what were called the “boom years” when foreign labor was encouraged, before years of crises and border closures followed.
It can be said that 3 moments overlap in the formation of working-class suburbs, represented in the industrial age and the decline in industrialization that began in the fifties, then the construction of large complexes and the entry into the model-planning crisis of the 1970s.
In light of this, the number of immigrants rose from 1.7 million people in 1946 to just over 3.5 million in the early 1990s, according to the INSI institute.
In these neighborhoods, a young man – who is seen as black or Arab – is 20 times more likely to be subjected to security scrutiny than others, according to a 2017 report by the French “Defender of Rights”.
The average disposable income in the popular neighborhoods is 13,770 euros per year per family, or 1,147.5 euros per month, compared to 21,730 euros in the surrounding areas, according to Insee data for 2020.
More than half of the children in these neighborhoods live in poverty (56.9% compared to 21.2% in the rest of France), according to the National Statistical Institute.
In general, the poverty rate in the popular neighborhoods in 2019 was 3 times higher than anywhere else in France, as 43.3% of its residents lived below the poverty line, compared to 14.5% in the rest of the regions.
A quarter of the population of popular neighborhoods benefits from the “Active Solidarity Income” and social assistance owed to the most disadvantaged, twice the rate in the rest of France, according to the National Observatory of City Policy.
Unemployment rates are also much higher in popular neighborhoods. In 2020, 18.6% of the labor force was unemployed, compared to 8% nationally, according to Inci.
In the 2017 presidential elections, 48% of the adult residents of these neighborhoods abstained from voting or were not registered on the electoral lists, according to a 2020 study by the Montaigne Institute, while this percentage dropped to 29% in the rest of France.
The National Agency for Urban Renewal invested around €12 billion in popular neighborhoods between 2004 and 2020.
In 600 neighbourhoods, huge, dilapidated apartment blocks were demolished and replaced by low-rise buildings that were more open to the cities. The government also plans to invest an additional €12 billion by 2030.