Unemployment falls further in Bulgaria

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s jobless rate fell to a new 15-year low of 8.74 percent in August from 8.96 percent in July, following strong economic growth and government-funded programs, Labor Ministry data showed yesterday. The figure is down slightly from a preliminary estimate of 8.76 percent presented earlier this month. The last time unemployment was so low was in the first half of 1991, just after the fall of communism, the state’s employment agency said. It could not specify the month. «The August level of unemployment is nearing the average level of unemployment in the European Union in July which, was 8 percent,» the ministry said in a statement. The Labor Ministry suggested that 323,753 people in the Balkan country of 7.7 million were without jobs in August, down 8,043 from the previous month and 75,273 fewer than in the same month a year earlier. New job offerings on the primary market were 17,543. The private sector offered almost 80 percent of the jobs. Some 102,178 people were employed under government-funded labor programs in August. Bulgaria’s economy grew a real 6.6 percent in the second quarter of the year, significantly outpacing the government’s forecasts, driven by booming industry and improved investment. The Socialist-led government, which took office a year ago, has promised to create around 240,000 new jobs over its four-year term. The unemployment rate was above 11 percent in the first months of 2006 and the government sees the average rate for the full year at 11 percent. It expects average unemployment to fall below 10 percent after 2008.