Record High European Jobless Rates Show North-South Rift

Unemployment in the euro zone hit 12 percent in February, its highest level since the creation of the euro, according to data released on Tuesday. It provided further evidence that the debt crisis has driven a wedge between the stable north and the struggling south in the 17-member currency bloc.

People waiting in front of a job center in Madrid.

People waiting in front of a job center in Madrid.

Euro-zone unemployment data released on Tuesday provided yet further evidence of the widening economic rift between the stable north and the struggling south.

The rate was 12 percent in February, unchanged from an upwardly-revised 12 percent in January, initially reported as 11.9 percent, said Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. It was the highest rate since the creation of the euro in 1999.

In the 17-nation bloc, 19.07 million were registered as unemployed, Eurostat estimated. In the full 27-member European Union, the unemployment rate rose to 10.9 percent from 10.8 percent.

The difference between the northern and southern euro member states is striking. Austria, Germany and Luxembourg had jobless rates of 4.8 percent, 5.4 percent and 5.5 percent respectively, while Greece and Spain were the hardest hit with rates of over 26 percent each. Portugal's unemployment stood at 17.5 percent.

The debt crisis is hitting young people particularly hard. In Greece, more than one in two people aged under 25 is without work -- a staggering rate of 58.4 percent. In Spain, the rate is 55.7 percent, followed by Portugal with 38.2 percent and Italy at 37.8 percent.

Economic powerhouse Germany has the lowest youth unemployment at 7.7 percent. The average rate for the euro zone was 23.9 percent in Feburary, down slightly from January.

A Threat to Global Competitiveness

The figures are likely to reinforce criticism by many politicians and economists that the austerity approach to tackling the debt crisis isn't working.

The bailout of Cyprus agreed to last week is expected to plunge yet another euro-zone member into a deep recession. Economists say the Cypriot economy could shrink 10 percent this year, with thousands of job losses, as a result of the deposit levy and enforced scaling down of the island's banking sector, one of its main industries.

The debt crisis isn't just increasing the strain within the euro zone, but also threatens to set the bloc back in competition with the other big economic regions.

China's GDP is growing at around 8 percent a year. The US economy grew 2.2 percent in 2012 and should expand 1.7 percent in 2013, the International Monetary Fund predicts.

The euro zone, meanwhile, contracted by 0.6 percent in 2012 and is expected to shrink again, by 0.3 percent, this year.

cro -- with wire reports


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