Rome

Italian unemployment hits unwanted record

Over three million jobless, 12.2% of working population

Italian unemployment hits unwanted record

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, July 1 - Unemployment in recession-hit Italy climbed to a new record high of 12.2% in May, according to preliminary seasonally adjusted data released by Istat on Monday. The national statistics agency said the seasonally adjusted unemployment figure has not been so high since the current calculation method was introduced in first quarter of 1977. It added that 3.14 million people were unemployed in May, up 56,000 on April and almost half a million, 480,000, on the same month in 2012. The only positive note was that unemployment among 15-to-24-year-olds fell to 38.5%, down 1.3% on April, although this still means close to four in 10 young people in this age bracket are jobless. The agency said the youth unemployment level was 2.9% higher than in May 2012 and that 647,000 under-25s were out of work. "The fact that the unemployment rate continues to rise bears witness to the gravity of the crisis," said Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini. "The recovery (from the recession) has not yet started. All the indicators say it (economic growth) could resume in the autumn. "These figures demand that the government and businesses work even harder to revive the Italian economy". Giovannini added that he was not comforted by the fact that unemployment among 15-to-24-year-olds was down. "Obviously the situation remains very serious," he said. Premier Enrico Letta's left-right government has said fighting unemployment, especially among the young, is its top priority, although it is having trouble finding money to finance efforts for job creation. Italian industrial employers' confederation Confindustria has called for labour taxes to be cut to encourage firms to hire workers. But ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, whose support Letta needs to keep his executive afloat, has said first the government must scrap an unpopular property tax call IMU and avert a 1% rise in the top band of value added tax scheduled to kick in later this year. The administration has made some progress though. Last week the cabinet passed a package of tax breaks to encourage firms to take on young people that it hopes will create 200,000 new jobs. These measures are aimed at the young people worse equipped to face up to the effects of Italy's longest recession in over 20 years, such as those without a high-school diploma, those living alone and those who have another person depending on them. Furthermore, on Friday a summit of European Union leaders approved another package to combat youth unemployment worth up to nine billion euros, after Letta insisted the issue be at the top of the agenda. Letta hailed the outcome as a victory for Rome and said around 1.5 billion euros of the money would go to Italy, although members of the PdL derided this as "crumbs". On Monday Giovannini defended the record of the government, which was sworn in late in April. "The decree the government passed to boost employment, starting from young people, is not a drop in the ocean," he said. "We've done a lot. We know there's still lots to do but it's not right to always write things off by saying much more is needed. "We've had an important signal from Europe that shows it wants to go beyond austerity policies". Confindustria President Giorgio Squinzi said that the unemployment figure was "unfortunately one that we expected" and reflected the "performance of the real economy". He added that the government had made "small steps in the right direction" and that it is necessary "to do more, with more decisiveness".

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