Euro-area jobless rate climbs to record 11.8 pct; Greece shows sharpest spike

Unemployment in the 17 EU countries that use the euro rose to 11.8 percent in November, as the number of jobless people in the region rose to 18.8 million, the highest figure since the single currency was founded in 1999.

According to data released Tuesday by the EU’s official statistics agency, eurozone unemployment was up 0.1 percentage points over October — but up a full 1.2 percentage points from a year ago. The rate for the 27-member European Union was 10.7 percent, the same as in October, but up from 10.0 percent a year ago. The number of unemployed across the full EU topped 26 million.

The figures illustrate the daunting tasks confronting European Union officials. While the threat of a collapse of the eurozone due to too much government debt may have receded, the economies in many EU countries stubbornly refuse to expand and joblessness continues to rise, creating broad social crises.

As part of their efforts to reduce their debt levels, governments across Europe have introduced tough austerity measures, such as slashing spending and raising taxes. However, measures such as cutting wages and pensions hit the labor force in the pocket and reduce demand in the economy.

Other measures taken alongside the austerity, such as reforming labor practices, and boosting skills and education, are intended to promote employment but they take time, both to enact and to feed through an economy.

As unemployment across the eurozone continues to rise, many analysts are concerned whether the political will to continue to cut budgets can be sustained.

The biggest rise in unemployment over the past year took place in Greece, where joblessness soared to 26 percent in September, up 7.1 percentage points over September 2011’s 18.9 percent. But the highest overall rate in the EU was in Spain, where 26.6 percent of the workforce was jobless in November, up 3.6 percentage points over last year.

By contrast, Austria posted the lowest unemployment rate in the EU, at 4.5 percent. The rate in Luxembourg was 5.1 percent, and the rate in Germany was 5.4 percent.

Among larger economies, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Britain was 7.8 percent, and in France it was 10.5 percent. [AP]