BRUSSELS: European unemployment has hit an unacceptable high, as one national leader put it on Tuesday, with dire figures in Spain highlighting a growing north-south divide that experts warn will only get worse.
The unemployment rate across the troubled 17-nation eurozone hit 11.8 per cent in November, up from 11.7 per cent in October, with the number of people out of work in the single currency area now nudging 19 million.
The 19th rise in a row for the eurozone, home to some 330 million people, represented an increase of more than two million on the dole compared with a year ago, according to data published by the EU statistics service Eurostat.
London-based IHS Global Insight analyst Howard Archer calculated the cumulative increase since April 2011 as 3.278 million after another 113,000 people lost their jobs.
"The only crumb of comfort was that this was the smallest rise since August, although it did follow a particularly sharp rise of 220,000 in October," Archer noted, before adding that he expected the jobless rate to "move clearly above 12 per cent during 2013."
The jobless numbers exceeded 26 million for the first time across the full 27-member European Union, which includes Britain and Poland, but the EU as a whole posted an unchanged unemployment rate of 10.7 per cent.
Such levels are "completely unacceptable," said Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, during a visit to Germany.
Eurostat figures showed that more jobs were lost over the past year in the eurozone, at 2.015 million, than in the 27-member EU, where the number was slightly lower at 2.012 million.
Hit by a property market bust and riddled with bad debt in its banks, Spain recorded the highest unemployment rate of all European countries -- at 26.6 per cent, worse even than bailed-out Greece.
Among under-25s, both those countries reported unemployment rates that hovered around 57 per cent.
According to figures that were seasonally-adjusted for comparative purposes, the November unemployment rate in key rival economies was 7.8 per cent for the United States and 4.1 per cent for Japan.
"2012 has been another very bad year for Europe in terms of unemployment and the deteriorating social situation," said European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Laszlo Andor.
"The risk of poverty or exclusion is constantly growing," he said, warning that "most national welfare systems have lost much of their ability to protect household incomes."
He added in reference to Germany and other northern economies faring far better than Europe's southern Mediterranean rim: "The divergence is especially striking between the north and the south of the eurozone."
Giving his annual report on employment trends, Andor said it was "unlikely that Europe will see much socio-economic improvement in 2013" and called for "appropriate labour market reforms and improvements in the design of welfare systems."
The Commission concluded there was a divergence between "countries that seem trapped in a downward spiral of falling output, fast-rising unemployment and eroding disposable incomes, and those that have so far shown good or at least some resilience."
Southern and peripheral countries whose governments and companies face higher interest rates or lack access to market financing will continue to struggle, the EU executive warned.
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