News about inflation and unemployment was hardly encouraging yesterday. The annual pace of inflation stuck at the same level at the end of June and unemployment rose slightly in the first quarter of 2003, the National Statistics Service (NSS) announced. Consumer inflation, at 3.8 percent, remained at end-May levels. The Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) used in all eurozone countries, actually rose in Greece to 3.6 percent in June from 3.5 percent in May. In the eurozone, the average HICP rose to 2 percent from 1.9 percent in May. This big difference in the inflation rate undermines Greece’s competitiveness and contributes to an increase in unemployment. Food and non-alcoholic beverages contributed most to the rise in inflation. Their prices rose 8.9 percent year-on-year. Fresh fruit prices jumped 34.6 percent and vegetables rose 26.6 percent, year-on-year. «Fresh fruit and vegetable prices remained at high levels but there has been an easing since mid-June that is not fully reflected in the index,» NSS head Nikos Karavitis said. Karavitis added that the core inflation rate, which excludes volatile fruit, vegetables and fuel prices, rose 3.2 percent. The NSS does not normally monitor core inflation statistics, but the Bank of Greece does. The unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent in the first quarter of 2003, compared to 9.7 percent in the last quarter of 2002. Compared to the jobless rate in the first quarter of 2002, however, it dropped a full percentage point. This is the comparison most experts make, since it accounts for seasonal variations. The eurozone’s average unemployment rate in April was 8.8 percent, unchanged from March’s figure. Greece’s jobless rate has steadily declined from 12 percent, reached in 2000, but a series of recent company bankruptcies and plant closures have fueled fears it may begin rising again. The NSS said the jobless rate for women stood at 14.9 percent, more than double the rate for men (6.5 percent). The long-term unemployed, those out of work for more than 12 months, made up 53.6 percent of the total. Among the unemployed, 42.6 percent were looking exclusively for full-time jobs and 47.6 percent said they would be willing to work part-time.