This article is part of a Huffington Post series on the global impact of austerity -- "A Thousand Cuts" -- from affordable housing funds lost in San Francisco to increasing class sizes in New York, food inspector cuts in Canada, disability benefits taken away in the United Kingdom, decimation of France's solar industry, and more. Click here for information on how you can help people affected by these measures.
PARIS -- A light breeze blows over Cravent. This small village about 65 kilometers west of Paris is where Agnès Carlier has set up her farm, an organic operation on the cutting edge of sustainable development, complete with new solar panels.
On July 3, Kilian Heim, the former manager of a company that marketed and installed photovoltaic power stations, stopped by the farm. He had just finished installing the solar panels the night before, and he wanted to inspect the work. He greeted Carlier warmly, kissing her on both cheeks.
"How is your job search?" Carlier asked him. "Did you find anything?"
Heim grimaced. While austerity measures remain comparatively limited in France, one field has suffered considerably: renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic systems. Over the past few years, nearly half the jobs in the sector, a total of 12,000, have been disappeared. According to the Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables (SER), the renewable-energy trade union, nearly one-third of those jobs vanished in 2011. Pioneers like Heim, who had gone out to conquer this new market, are now restarting from zero.
Heim founded his solar energy company, Kinergy, with a friend in August 2006. It aimed to market and install solar power stations for individual homeowners as well as businesses.
In April 2010, Kinergy employed 30 salaried workers and generated 5.5 million euros in sales. It managed several hundred projects around the country, in the Ile-de-France, Brittany, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Rhône-Alpes regions. Everything was going well, and everything would have continued to go well, Heim said, had a series of "brutal" austerity measures not begun that summer, which ultimately killed his company and those of thousands of other entrepreneurs.
What happened? In 2010, solar power was financed partly through a special tax on consumers' electricity bills and partly with tax credits for those who invested in solar energy. The longtime electricity provider EDF, a former state company that is still 84 percent owned by the government, largely dominated the market because of its seniority. To develop the solar power industry, it repurchased photovoltaic energy from individual producers at advantageous prices.
But the worldwide financial crisis was driving the government to rethink the budget; it decided to decrease those subsidies drastically. First, in August 2010, EDF slashed its repurchase prices by 20 percent. At the same time, the government cut the tax credit for solar energy investments by half.
Then, in December 2010, the government imposed a three-month moratorium on the industry, freezing all applications for contracts between EDF and the solar panel companies.
"It's like telling a car dealer he can't sell cars," Heim explained. It became impossible to finalize contracts and difficult to persuade customers to make a commitment, without knowing what decisions would be taken at the end of the moratorium.
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Heim saw his company's sales collapse. After a long struggle, he fired all 30 employees and finally declared Kinergy bankrupt in October 2011. Devastated, he told the judge overseeing the liquidation, "This is a market that has a bright future, but no present."
The death of his company left Heim personally in debt. For eight months, he and his business partner had gone without salaries to try to save the business. Since the liquidation, Heim has received no unemployment benefits because he owned the company.
"My account is systematically overdrawn. I'm blacklisted at the Banque de France [the central bank of France], and I'm not allowed to borrow money for at least three years," he said. He noted that he's had to put products back on the shelves at the supermarket after his credit card was rejected.
To live, he has relied on his wife and the generosity of family and friends. For daily needs, he said, he searches for Internet deals, clearance and promotional sales, and discount coupons.
It's been stressful. "There were times when I looked at my wife and I wondered what the future would bring," Heim said. "Times when faced with unpaid rent, I imagined the consequences, including the bailiff and being evicted from our home."
Other solar entrepreneurs have encountered similar difficulties. Marco Caputo, manager of the company Sunvie, which offers turnkey solar power installations, had to lay off eight people in the spring of 2011. To save his business, he also slashed his salary in half and then stopped taking any wages at all between July 2011 and April 2012. Today, his salary is half of what he used to make.
His standard of living has been "drastically reduced," Caputo said. Personal savings have melted away. He used to regularly take vacations with friends in Corsica but has not gone for two years. "My three daughters have now become scholarship students," said Caputo.
The solar startups' one-time employees are also being hit hard. Jorge Rendon, 47, worked for Kinergy as logistics manager and has not found work since the company went under. Entering the ranks of the unemployed as an older worker, he is facing bleak job prospects.
Thanks to unemployment benefits, Rendon receives 70 percent of his previous salary. Like his former bosses, he has had to "cut back on extras," he said.
"Outings, vacations, clothing, everything has been reduced," said Rendon. A golf fan, he had to drop his club membership. Like Caputo, he has obtained scholarships for his children's education.
The solar companies' clients have suffered from the austerity measures, too. Some had to abandon all or part of their plans. For Agnès Carlier, who heats her house by burning wood and grew up reading the early environmentalist René Dumont, investing in renewable energy represented a logical extension of her beliefs. Her farm has a large roof that faces south, ideal for solar power panels.
After Kinergy declared bankruptcy, however, Carlier feared she would never see her deposit of 7,000 euros (about $8,600) again. She earns just 1,300 euros a month, and purchasing the panels was a huge investment. The project became a nightmare when the company, embroiled in legal problems, stopped answering the telephone.
"There was nobody answering," Carlier said. "The sales and marketing person I used to be in touch with had been laid off, and the company wouldn't pick up the receiver."
Finally, Heim decided to install the panels himself, helped by a friend. An act of kindness, the project took days. "We bent over backwards," said Heim.
Carlier is grateful to Heim and now considers him a friend. "He could have washed his hands of the job,” she said.
Austerity Measures Devastate Communities Around The World
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/austerity-measures-a-thousand-cuts_n_1666309.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> The austerity budget, conservatives' favored response to the Great Recession, is more than just simple belt tightening. It's not one cut or 10, but a thousand. City and neighborhood essentials like bus service become expendable, and things that we have come to depend on as part of our daily lives are slowly erased. Those teachers and firefighters <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/mitt-romney-we-dont-need-more-cops-firefighters-or-teachers/2012/06/08/gJQAvOgDOV_blog.html" target="_hplink">Mitt Romney doesn't want</a> to pay for? They're already part of austerity's disappeared jobs. This austerity mindset is taking hold not just in cities and states across the United States, but around the world. While conservatives have championed austerity as eat-your-peas necessity, these massive cuts often have unintended consequences.
Fire Department Cuts
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/fire-department-cuts-a-thousand-cuts_n_1659671.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> "They are asking you to do more with less," Westfield, N.J., firefighters union president Mike Sawicki said. "A second-grader can figure that out. Show up with nine guys, and it is easier to save." While the number of deadly fires has declined over the last 20 years nationwide, thanks to better construction and safety techniques, fire departments are increasingly called upon to answer medical emergencies, chemical spills and more, said Garry Biese, CEO for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Yet fire departments are going short-handed. The precipitous drop in state and local revenues caused by the Great Recession, combined with budget cuts pushed by austerity-minded politicians, has led to static or slowly dropping staffing levels across the country.
Larger Class Sizes
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/14/larger-class-size-a-thousand-cuts_n_1659591.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> When Shania started third grade at P.S. 148 last fall, she was thrilled to be back at the Queens public school. An outgoing eight-year-old, she said she was happy to be among her friends again, and she had loved her class the previous year. Her second-grade teacher would take the time to explain tricky topics like addition and subtraction one-on-one. She had even been named "student of the month." But since 2007, as the economy has tanked and expenses for public schools have risen, New York City has made principals cut budgets by 13.7 percent. When budgets are cut, teachers are fired and others aren't replaced -- including at P.S. 148, which has lost at least $600,000 and eight teachers since 2010. When teachers are lost, class sizes balloon. Shania had 31 classmates this past school year, compared to 20 the year before.
'The Big Problem For Me Is Fear'
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/15/austerity-measures-uk-a-thousand-cuts_n_1670711.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE for the full story.</a> Since birth, Lisa Egan, 33, has dealt with a rare genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. The condition has caused more than 60 fractures in Egan's lifetime, including five separate breaks in 2011. "I once broke my back sleeping in an awkward position," she said. Because her disease is "wearing out her joints," doctors told Egan to use a wheelchair. "I can walk a very short distance and very slowly," said Egan, who lives in Camden, North London. "But sometimes things happen, such as my knee dislocates or I will tear a tendon out of a metatarsal and pull the end of the bone off with it. ... So I use a wheelchair most of the time." Despite her condition, Egan said she does not like to be seen as "vulnerable." Intelligent and articulate, she has written extensively on disability and politics, and has even tried a stint at stand-up comedy. As one of nearly 500,000 people in the United Kingdom who rely on welfare benefits, however, Egan now experiences fear daily: fear for her future, fear for her ability to live independently, even fear for her life.
Public Transit Crisis
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/detroit-bus-cuts-a-thousand-cuts_n_1647867.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Waits have been getting longer for many of the roughly 107,000 to 117,000 daily passengers who depend on Detroit's bus fleet. The city has lost about half of its bus service since 2005, according to Transportation Riders United, a rider advocacy group. Under the Detroit Department of Transportation's new "415" plan, the city has increased service along its four busiest routes, with buses now running every 15 minutes, but the new schedule necessitated tradeoffs elsewhere. In March, the department, whose management had recently been privatized by the city, shortened hours on more than 30 routes and discontinued all service between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. The changes, which the city anticipates will save $40 million a year, have forced an estimated 3,200 nighttime travelers to come up with alternative plans for getting around town and left others waiting longer on the side of the road. "I'm hurting. A lot of times they don't come around, and when they do, they pass you by," said George Jones, 57.
Fewer Food Inspectors
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/canada-food-safety-a-thousand-cuts_n_1664579.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Frances Clark's last moments were not peaceful. Flu-like symptoms and seizures wracked her body. Her breathing deteriorated. At the end, she was "gasping, like a fish out of water," her daughter recalled later in court documents. The 89-year-old woman died on Aug. 25, 2008, the first victim of a listeriosis outbreak that killed 23 people, sickened thousands more and triggered the biggest food recall in Canadian history. A government investigation determined the cause of the outbreak: tainted meat from processing giant Maple Leaf Foods. The company apologized to the victims and settled a number of lawsuits, including one brought by Clark's family, for CAD$27 million. Following the scandal, the federal government introduced significant changes to its meat inspection program, including nearly doubling the number of inspectors from 225 to 400. But now, the government has slashed the budget for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal department responsible for food safety, by $56 million over the next three years.
Affordable Housing Gap
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/affordable-housing-san-francisco-a-thousand-cuts_n_1666760.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Roman Quinn said getting clean would have been nearly impossible if he were still living on the streets. But his struggle to find a place to live proved nearly as difficult as his struggle to find sobriety. San Francisco has nonprofit groups and other programs in place to help the city's most vulnerable residents -- people like Quinn and, increasingly, families tossed out of their homes due to the recession -- find housing. In recent months, however, that system has been greatly strained. Federal housing grants and tax credit programs have decreased drastically. Last year alone, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which doles out grants to municipalities for things like affordable housing construction and down payment assistance, saw its budget slashed by almost 38 percent. And changes at the state level last year cost the city about $50 million worth of tax revenue that had gone toward affordable housing. Meanwhile, the flood of individuals who have lost their jobs and homes in recent years has swelled the demand for affordable housing. It became so bad that the city's public housing authority closed the waiting list to new applicants in 2010. The list has yet to reopen. Without new sources of funding, success stories, even ones as tenuous as Quinn's, will be increasingly uncommon.
New Industry Struggles
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/austerity-measures-france-a-thousand-cuts_n_1679428.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> While austerity measures remain comparatively limited in France, one field has suffered considerably: renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic systems. Over the past few years, nearly half the jobs in the sector, a total of 12,000, have been disappeared. According to the Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables, the renewable-energy trade union, nearly one-third of those jobs vanished in 2011. Entrepreneurs like Kilian Heim, who had gone out to conquer this new market, are now restarting from zero.
Austerity's Big Winners
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/austerity-wall-street_n_1690838.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> The austerity game also has winners. Cutting or eliminating government programs that benefit the less advantaged has long been an ideological goal of conservatives. Doing so also generates a tidy windfall for the corporate class, as government services are privatized and savings from austerity pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens.
How You Can Help
As readers of The Huffington Post, you can take action to help those affected by these austerity measures. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/austerity-cuts-how-you-can-help_n_1669072.html" target="_hplink">Click here for information on what you can do.</a>