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Unemployment soars in euro zone, plummets in Germany

Eurostat released figures saying the euro zone’s unemployment figures were the highest since the common currency was introduced.

BERLIN, Germany — Two very different record unemployment figures were released on Tuesday, showing just how far economies in Europe are diverging.

Germany’s Federal Labor Agency announced that the jobless numbers had fallen to a record low in January. On the same day Eurostat released figures saying the euro zone’s unemployment figures were the highest since the common currency was introduced.

While the German figures rose slightly in January compared to December, inching back above the 3 million figure, that was put down to seasonal factors. The number of those out of work tends to go up in winter months as the construction sector slows down and retail workers hired for the Christmas period are let go. Yet there were still 264,000 fewer people out of work than last January. In fact the seasonally-adjusted rate of 6.7 percent is the lowest in two decades.

“Rising employment and falling unemployment will help stabilize domestic demand and boost the chances that the German economy will quickly be able to leave the current lull in growth behind it,” Economics Minister Philipp Roesler told reporters on Tuesday.

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Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen also welcomed the fact that “the labor market is showing no signs of weakening yet.”

It’s not all good news in Germany. The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reports Tuesday that the long-term unemployed are barely able to benefit from the positive developments on the job market. Around 936,000 people had been without work for more than a year in December 2011, just 3 percent fewer than the previous year. 

Nevertheless, Germany’s jobless figures are the envy of many European countries.

In fact on Tuesday Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, also released its latest unemployment figures. It found that joblessness had hit a record of 10.4 percent in the euro zone in December, the highest since the single currency was launched in 1999. The figure for the EU as a whole was 9.9 percent.

Even within the zone, rates vary hugely. Spain has the highest rate with a massive 22.9 percent, and Greece is not far off with 19.2 percent. The countries with the lowest rates of unemployment were Austria with 4.1 percent and the Netherlands with 4.9 percent. 

In all, 16.8 million people in the euro zone are unemployed and in the EU as a whole 23.8 million people are looking for work.

And as austerity measures continue to bite and with economies contracting, there is little prospect of those figures improving any time soon.

On Monday, Spain released figures showing that its economy shrank by 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, putting it on course to enter recession this quarter. And French Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced that the Paris was cutting its growth forecast to 0.5 percent from 1 percent for 2012.