Eurozone unemployment rate at record high

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Media captionGreek worker who took 45% pay cut:: "I had to move back to my parents home"

The rate of unemployment in the eurozone has hit a record high of 12%, official figures have shown.

The number of people unemployed in the 17 member states rose by 33,000 during February, to hit 19.07 million, the statistics agency Eurostat said.

The highest jobless rates were 26.4% in Greece, although this figure was from December, and 26.3% in Spain.

Separately, figures confirmed a deterioration in the eurozone's manufacturing sector in March.

Youth unemployment

The lowest unemployment rates recorded by Eurostat were in Austria (4.8%) and Germany (5.4%), both unchanged from January. The overall unemployment rate for the eurozone in January was revised up from 11.9% to 12%.

Across the 27 member states of the European Union, the unemployment rate rose to 10.9%, up from 10.8% the previous month.

The fresh high in the unemployment rate "is further confirmation of the underlying weakness of the economy", said Jennifer McKeown at Capital Economics.

"The rise in unemployment was the 22nd in a row, making this labour market downturn the most prolonged since the early 1990s."

Youth unemployment remains an area of particular concern, with 188,000 people aged under 25 joining the ranks of the unemployed in February.

More than half the workforce in this age group are now out work in Spain and Greece, and almost a quarter out of a job across the eurozone as a whole.

"I think under those circumstances you're getting to the point at which social unrest is likely to mount, because basically the youngsters coming out of school and universities just can't find jobs," Commerzbank's Peter Dixon told the BBC.

'Disappointing picture'

There was further gloomy news from the eurozone's manufacturing sector, as a survey indicated that manufacturing activity fell to a three-month low in March.

The final Markit eurozone manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) for March fell to 46.8, slightly higher than an initial estimate but below the 47.9 recorded in February. Any score below 50 indicates a contraction in the sector.

Germany and the Republic of Ireland both fell back below 50, while the rate of decline accelerated in all other eurozone countries apart from France.

The survey indicated that output and new orders fell across the eurozone, while job losses increased.

"The surveys paint a very disappointing picture across the region," said Markit's chief economist Chris Williamson.

"The manufacturing sector looks likely to have acted as a drag on the economy in the first quarter, with an acceleration in the rate of decline in March raising the risk that the downturn may also intensify in the second quarter."

The eurozone economy is currently in recession, having contracted for the past three consecutive quarters. Some economists expect to see a further contraction in the first three months of this year when growth estimates are published by Eurostat on 15 May, with a slow return to moderate growth expected later in the year.

Analysts say that the short-term economic outlook remains bleak, given that many governments are cutting spending and raising taxes as they struggle to control high deficits and rising debt levels.

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