Eurozone unemployment stays at record high

A single firework explodes above the euro sculpture in front of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt The number of jobless people in the eurozone is at a record high

Unemployment in the eurozone stayed at a record high in November as the impact of the sovereign debt crisis rumbled on, according to official figures.

The jobless rate in the 17 nations that use the euro was 10.3% in November for the second month in a row, according to the Eurostat statistics agency.

There were 16.3 million people in the bloc out of work.

At the same time, an index of consumer confidence fell to a two-year low in December, the European Commission said.

The economic sentiment indicator fell 0.5 to 93.3 in December, which was well below the long-term average of 100, the Commission said.

Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Global Insight, said that the data suggested that Europe's economy had contracted in the last three months of 2011.

"Tighter fiscal policy, squeezed consumers, the seemingly never-ending eurozone sovereign debt crisis, weakened global growth and financial market turmoil are taking a serious toll on economic activity across the eurozone," he said.

Spain's unemployment rate was highest at 22.9%, accounting for more than a quarter of the total eurozone unemployment figure.

Spain's rate was more than four times as high as in Austria, for example, where only 4% of people were jobless.

For the whole of the European Union, which includes countries such as the UK and Sweden that do not use the euro, the unemployment rate was 9.8%.

Separately, Eurostat said that eurozone retail sales fell 2.5% in November, compared with the same month the previous year.

The steepest declines were in Portugal, which was bailed out last April, where sales fell 9.2% from a year earlier.

But there were also declines in the richer, northern European countries that are lifting eurozone growth, with Germany and the Netherlands both seeing declining retail sales.

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