Spanish jobless up for third straight month in March

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The number of Spaniards out of work rose for a third consecutive month in March, up 0.8 percent from February to 4.33 million, the highest level since records began in 1996, official figures showed Monday.

The labour ministry said the number of unemployed in March rose 34,4067 or compared with February, with the total up by some 230,000 so far this year in Spain whose jobless rate is the highest in the developed world at some 20 percent.

The labour ministry does not provide a percentage figure for unemployment which was last given as 20.33 percent for the three months to December 2010 by the INE statistics agency, the highest level since 1997 and double the EU average.

That is the highest level in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and topped the government target of 19.4 percent for the year.

Secretary of state for employment, Mari Luz Rodriguez, said "anytime unemployment rises, it is a bad number."

Spain's booming construction industry drew millions of unskilled immigrant workers and generated high levels of economic growth in the decade to 2008.

But the collapse of the property bubble, compounded by the global financial crisis, left many people out of work, especially immigrants and youths.

The rise in the number of those unemployed and claiming benefit adds to the squeeze on public sector finances just as the government is trying to stamp out market fears that Spain will need an IMF-EU bailout like Greece and Ireland.

The Bank of Spain forecast last week that the unemployment rate, which was as low as 8.3 percent in 2007, will continue to rise this year to 20.7 percent before falling slightly to 20.4 percent in 2012.

"The most persistent imbalance will be that presented by the unemployment rate, which may continue to rise in 2011 and will only begin to fall slightly in 2012, in the absence of additional labour market measures," it said in its latest economic bulletin.

Last year, the government introduced hotly contested labour market reforms which cut the country's high cost of firing workers and gave companies more flexibility to reduce working hours and staff levels in economic downturns -- changes that it argued would boost job creation.

It predicts the unemployment rate will start to fall during the second half of this year.

© 2011 AFP

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