Saturday, May 19, 2018
Business

Eurozone jobless rate remains at record-high 11 percent

BRUSSELS — Unemployment across the 17 countries that use the euro stayed at 11 percent in April, the highest level since the single currency was introduced in 1999, piling further pressure upon the region's leaders to switch from austerity to focus on stimulating growth.

The eurozone's stagnant economy left 17.4 million people — out of an active population of about 158 million — without a job. Unemployment rates are also continuing to climb in struggling Spain, Portugal and Greece. The EU's Eurostat office said 110,000 unemployed people were added in April alone.

Meanwhile, in recession-hit Spain, unemployment spiked to 24.3 percent, the worst rate in the EU. It was up 0.2 percentage points since March and 3.6 percentage points compared with last year. Youth unemployment ballooned to 51.5 percent, up from 45 percent last year.

Friday's figures follow last week's European Union summit, where leaders including Francois Hollande, the new socialist French president, called for measures to boost growth and employment to offset the impact of stringent austerity policies. Experts argue that targeted measures could help get people, especially youngsters, off the unemployment lines.

Austerity has been the main prescription across Europe for dealing with a debt crisis that has afflicted the continent for nearly three years and has raised the specter of the breakup of the single currency. Three countries — Greece, Ireland and Portugal — have already required bailouts because of unsustainable levels of debt.

Some pressure on EU financial chiefs was relieved Friday when Ireland's voters agreed to ratify the European Union's deficit-fighting treaty, although government leaders and pro-treaty campaigners alike expressed relief rather than joy because of the stark economic challenges ahead.

Financially shaky countries such as Spain are facing rapidly rising borrowing costs on bond markets, a sign that investors are nervous about the size of their debts. Austerity was intended to address this nervousness by reducing a government's borrowing needs, but there has been a side effect: Economies are shrinking across the eurozone as governments cut spending and raise taxes to reduce deficits.

This has prompted economists and politicians to urge European policymakers to dial back on short-term budget-cutting and focus on stimulating long-term growth. One area for growth could be better use of the resources already at the European Union's disposal. The EU has a pot of so-called "structural funds," many of which are going unused even though several countries are in desperate need of cash.

One source of funds to get growth started in Europe could be the issue of so-called "eurobonds" — jointly issued bonds that could be used to fund anything and could eventually replace an individual country's debt. Eurobonds would protect weaker countries, such as Spain and Italy, by insulating them from the high interest rates they now face when they raise money on bond markets. Those high interest rates are ground zero of the crisis: They forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek bailouts.

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