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Euro-zone jobless rate near a 5-year high

THE jobless rate in the 16 nations that use the euro surged to 8.9 percent in March, the highest level in nearly five years, the European Union statistics office said yesterday.

Unemployment is rising steeply despite recently higher business and consumer optimism about the recession-hit economy. Construction and industry are still suffering badly from low demand and many European government's stimulus packages have been slow to come on line.

The euro-zone jobless rate climbed from 8.7 percent in February. Euro-zone unemployment last hit 8.9 percent in November 2004.

Unemployment across all 27 EU countries rose to 8.3 percent in March from 8.1 percent in February. Some 20 million people are now seeking work in the region, up 4 million from March 2008, according to Eurostat.

Meanwhile, inflation stayed at a record low of 0.6 percent in April, officials said.

That is largely a result of a dramatic price drop for oil, which hit a record high last July.

Eurostat's first estimate for inflation was the same as March and well below the European Central Bank target of just under 2 percent.

EU officials forecast that some 3.5 million jobs will be lost in the EU this year although employers say that will likely be far higher at about 4.5 million.

Spain, hit hard by a collapsing housing boom and lower tourist numbers, now has the highest jobless rate in the EU at 17.4 percent. More than a third of Spanish workers under the age of 25 are out of a job.

Close behind are the Baltic economies: Latvia at 16.1 percent, Lithuania at 15.5 percent and Estonia at 11 percent.


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