Eurozone jobless rate hits record high

Students and the unemployed take part in a protest against austerity cuts and lack of jobs in Naples
Image caption Austerity and a lack of jobs have led to protests on the streets of Italy

Unemployment in the eurozone reached a record high again in March as spending cuts continued to hit the working population.

For all 17 nations in the eurozone, the jobless rate rose again to 10.9%, the highest since the euro was formed in 1999, Eurostat said .

For the eurozone, 17.4 million are now looking for work and more than 3 million of those are under 25.

Italy's unemployment rate reached a 12-year high, up to 9.8%.

The jobless rate in Germany rose to 5.6% in March, Eurostat figures showed, the same as in the previous month. The number of Germans out of work is now at 2.38 million.

For the whole of the European Union, including countries such as the UK and Denmark, the jobless rate is 10.2%.

The data pushed shares in Europe lower, with stocks in Madrid falling 2.6% to close at the lowest in three years.

Austerity or growth

Last week, Spain said that the number of jobseekers rose for the eighth month in a row in March to hit 5.6 million, a record rate of 24.4%.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union and it is expected to rise further this year.

Spain and Italy are both in recession and have seen borrowing costs rise, raising the prospect that they may need help or even bailouts.

A debate is raging in Europe about whether politicians have prioritised austerity at the expense of economic growth, making recovery even harder for themselves.

Eurostat said that the EU member countries that had the biggest falls in unemployment in the past year were on Europe's eastern fringe - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Those with the biggest increases were Spain, Greece and Cyprus.

Separately, a survey of eurozone manufacturing indicated that the sector slipped further into decline last month as new orders fell for the 11th straight month.

Markit's manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) dropped to 45.9 in April, from 47.7 in March, its lowest reading since June 2009. A reading below 50 indicates contraction in the sector.

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