Eurozone unemployment hits new record

03.04.12 @ 09:14

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BRUSSELS - Eurozone unemployment reached 10.8 percent in February, the highest level since the currency was introduced in 1999, according to the latest Eurostat data.

  • Southern countries are struggling most with unemployment and weak industrial output (Photo: European Commission)

The statistics office estimated that more than 17.1 million men and women were out of work in February in the 17 states of the eurozone, 162,000 more than a month earlier and 1.48 million more than in 2011. The highest increases were registered in Greece (14.3% to 21.0% between December 2010 and December 2011), Spain (20.6% to 23.6%) and Cyprus (6.7% to 9.7%)

Across the 27 EU member states, the unemployment average is slightly lower (10.2%) but also on an increasing trend compared to February 2011 (9.5%).

Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Germany have the lowest unemployment rates, with Germany registering a decrease from 6.3 percent in February 2011 to 5.7 percent this year.

Meanwhile in Spain, despite the government's efforts to open up labour markets, youth unemployment continues to rise, as 50.5 percent of people under 25 were out of a job in February, compared to 49.9 percent a month earlier and up from 44.4 percent in February 2011.

The unemployment statistics confirm that austerity-driven policies are putting the brakes on the eurozone economy, with manufacturing data gathered by Markit also at a three-month low in March. The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), a survey of 3,000 eurozone manufacturers, fell to 47.7 points in March from 49 points in February. A score below the neutral 50 mark indicates recession.

But the EU commission on Monday repeated its calls for countries to stick to their budget-deficit cutting measures.

"This is why, more than ever, it is important to carry out structural reforms in countries where the growth potential remains low and where we don't see the creation of new and better jobs," Amadeu Altafaj, the spokesman for economics commissioner Olli Rehn, said during a press conference.

But the changes are themselves being met with resistance. Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti faced his first coalition quarrels over labour market reforms last week, while Spain's premier, Mariano Rajoy, had to deal with his first general strike last week over EU-prescribed austerity measures.

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