By Laurent Thomet (AFP) – Jun 1, 2012
BRUSSELS — The eurozone debt crisis has hit workers hard, with grim data showing Friday a manufacturing freefall and unemployment at a record 11 percent, piling pressure on EU leaders to restore growth.
The unemployment rate in March and April was the highest since the eurozone was created in 1999, and analysts warned it would likely rise further.
More than 17.4 million people were jobless in the 17-nation single currency area in April, as 110,000 more men and women joined unemployment queues, according to the Eurostat data agency.
Youth unemployment worsened with nearly 3.36 million people under 25 looking for jobs in May, an increase of 214,000 from the previous month.
A key survey meanwhile showed manufacturing activity sinking to its lowest level in three years.
"These data paint a dismal picture of a deepening recession throughout the region," said Jennifer McKeown, senior European economist at Capital Economics.
"This clearly further reduces policymakers' chances of stemming the debt crisis."
European Union leaders are scrambling to jumpstart economies but are divided over how, with powerhouse Germany pressing for continued austerity while France pushes growth stimulus policies.
The bloc's 27 leaders failed to bridge differences at an informal dinner last week.
Italian premier Mario Monti on Friday invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to Rome on June 22 to seek a compromise ahead of an EU summit the following week.
"All in all, today's grim unemployment figures provide a sober reminder that the eurozone economy is in desperate need of a more expansionary policy stance," said ING Bank analyst Martin van Vliet.
Eurozone unemployment has remained above 10 percent for 12 months in a row as the bloc struggles to contain a debt crisis that has spread to Spain, where banking woes may force Madrid to seek a bailout.
The eurozone data showed growing disparities between so-called "peripheral" countries in the south and wealthier northern nations.
Spain posted again the worst unemployment rate at 24.3 percent, with more than one in two people under 25 without work. Greece was at 21.7 percent in February and Portugal at 15.2 percent in May.
Austria had the lowest rate at 3.9 percent, Luxembourg and the Netherlands fared well at 5.2 percent and Germany was at 5.4 percent.
In the wider 27-member EU, unemployment rose to 10.3 percent in April compared with 10.2 percent in March.
Around 24.67 million people were without jobs.
The jobless rate worsened in the United States too, rising to 8.2 percent in the world's biggest economy.
Some analysts expect eurozone unemployment to reach 11.5 percent by the end of the year, though the economy is also forecast to begin slowly recovering by then.
Meanwhile, a Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), a survey of 3,000 European manufacturers compiled by the Markit research firm, fell to 45.1 points in May from 45.9 in April. A score below 50 indicates contraction.
The survey brought more bad news to Spain as the country replaced eurozone weakling Greece at the bottom of the list with a reading of 42 points.
The deepening manufacturing downturn indicates "that the damage to the real economy caused by the region's financial and political crises continues to spread across the region," said Markit chief economist Chris Williamson.
"The rate of decline is nowhere near as severe as that seen at the height of the 2008-09 crisis, but the situation is nevertheless deteriorating at an alarming rate," he said.
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