Euro zone unemployment hits record high, seen rising

Fri Jun 1, 2012 7:31am EDT
 
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By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Euro zone unemployment has hit a record high, and job losses are likely to keep climbing as the bloc's devastating debt crisis eats away at businesses' ability to hire workers while indebted governments continue to cut staff.

Around 17.4 million people were out of work in the 17-nation euro zone in April, or 11 percent of the working population, the highest level since records began in 1995, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Friday.

"This 11 percent level is going to continue edging up in the coming months and probably until the end of the year," said Francois Cabau, an economist at Barclays Capital who sees the euro zone's economy contracting 0.1 percent this year.

"The economic activity situation tells you the story of the labor market. There's been basically no economic growth since the fourth quarter of last year and indicators are pointing to very weak growth momentum for the second quarter," he said.

ING economist Martin van Vliet said he sees the unemployment rate reaching slightly above 11.5 percent if the economy starts to recover later this year. But if the downturn worsens, "the risk is for an even higher peak in unemployment," he said.

As the debt crisis intensifies, companies in the euro zone are trying to keep their labor costs low as they struggle with falling demand and profits, while a German-led drive to cut deficits and debt is pressuring governments to shrink spending.

But some economists say austerity policies in an economic downturn are self-defeating because governments receive less tax receipts as unemployment grows and must pay out more money in jobless benefits.

"The high level of unemployment is putting cyclical pressure on government expenditure in many of the euro zone's economies and that is contributing to the lack of confidence in many of the euro zone's sovereign debt markets," said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec bank in London.   Continued...

 
People look at job offers at the Clara Campoamor centre in Barakaldo during an annual open day in which local council organization Inguralde arrange interviews between job seekers and businesses, May 17, 2012. REUTERS/Vincent West