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Eurozone unemployment falls to seven-year low

For the first time since April 2011, the eurozone's jobless rate has fallen below 10 percent. The Czech Republic recorded the lowest rate within the 19-member bloc, while Greece logged the highest.

The unemployment rate in the 19-nation eurozone had fallen below the symbolic mark of 10 percent for the first time since April 2011, EU data showed on Thursday.

According to European statistics agency Eurostat, the 9.8 percent jobless rate in October was the eurozone's lowest in seven years. The fall is a welcome boost to the European economy, which is muddling through a slow recovery from the eurozone debt crisis and faces new problems such as Brexit and the rise of political populism.

The drop to 9.7 percent in France is a significant development ahead of the 2017 presidential elections that could see the rise of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. According to analyst Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight, more jobs "are key if eurozone consumers are to make a solid contribution to growth over the coming months.

Shaky business confidence

"A concern going forward is that heightened political uncertainty could weigh down on business confidence and lead to [more] caution over employment and investment," he said.

The unemployment rate in the eurozone has been declining since mid-2013 as a post-crisis economic recovery has taken hold and more people - particularly women and older workers - have joined the workforce. But improvement has been slow, with the economy still short of the 7.5-percent rate before the 2007-08 financial crash.

Though the "labor market recovery has regained some pace ... the rate of unemployment is still high and recent developments are consistent with pretty slow wage growth," warned Daniel Christen of Capital Economics.

Unemployment rates continue to vary widely across individual EU countries. The Czech Republic’s 3.8 percent beat out the EU's largest economy Germany (4.1 percent) for the lowest figure in October.

On the other end of the spectrum, Greece and Spain had the highest rates with 23.4 percent (August) and 19.2 percent (October), respectively. Both countries have struggled with sluggish economic growth amid years of fiscal austerity triggered by the eurozone debt crisis, during which unemployment in the single currency bloc peaked at 12.1 percent.

Overall, some 15.9 million people were without jobs in the eurozone in October, down 190,000 from September and 1.8 million fewer compared with October 2015.

bb/hg (AFP, dpa)

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