Spanish unemployment soars past 17 percent
Unemployment figures released on Friday are far worse than predictions made by the government at the beginning of the year.MADRID – The number of unemployed in Spain almost doubled in the past year to four million, with the jobless rate soaring past 17 percent, as the global crisis battered an economy that was once the envy of the rest of Europe, official data showed Friday.
The rate is by far the highest in the 27-nation European Union, where the average was 7.9 percent in February.
Spain's jobless rate went from 13.91 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 to 17.36 percent in the first quarter of this year, or an additional 802,800 persons out of work, the National Statistics Institute (INE) said.
"The total number of unemployed is at 4.01 million, with a rise of 1.836 million in the last 12 months," it said in a statement.
It was the highest rate in Spain since the fourth quarter of 1998, when it was 17.99 percent, while the number of unemployed is the most since at least 1976, when such data was first recorded.
"It is a terrible figure," said the secretary of state for social security, Octavio Granado. "We are at the worst point of the crisis, in the very eye of the storm."
Finance Minister Elena Salgado also conceded the figures were "worse than we expected", but said the reducing unemployment is a "priority" for the government.
"We will do everything possible to reduce these unemployment numbers, of course guarantying unemployment benefits for every person in this situation." said Salgado, who replaced former EU commissioner Pedro Solbes in the post less than three weeks ago.
She said fiscal stimulus measures implemented by Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero since 2008 should begin to take effect this month.
The figures released Friday are far worse than the predictions in January by the government, which projected an unemployment rate of 15.9 percent for 2009.
The central bank early this month forecast the rate would reach 17.1 percent in 2009 and 19.4 percent in 2010.
Formerly one of the eurozone's chief engines of economic growth and job creation, Spain suffered an abrupt change of fortunes last year when the outbreak of the global financial crisis hastened a correction that was already underway in its key real estate sector.
Europe's fifth largest economy, which expanded at an impressive 3.7 percent in 2007, entered its first recession in 15 years at the end of 2008.
The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday said Spain will see two full years of recession, with the economy contracting 3.0 percent this year and 0.6 percent in 2010 and unemployment hitting 19.3 percent next year.
The unemployment rate was far higher among Spain's vast numbers of immigrants, 28.39 percent of whom were unemployed in the first quarter compared to 15.24 percent of Spaniards, the INE said.
The number of registered foreign residents in Spain shot up from 500,000 in 1996 to 5.2 million currently, mainly from Latin America, eastern Europe and north Africa, out of a total population of 46 million.
Many came to work in Spain's booming construction industry, which collapsed abruptly last year.
With employers now shedding workers at a rapid pace, the low-skilled jobs typically occupied by immigrants have been hit hardest.
AFP / Expatica