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German unemployment remains unchanged

The number of Germans registered as unemployed dropped slightly from May to June. The unemployment rate for the 18-member eurozone as a whole remained stagnant, with vast differences between countries.

The number of Germans registered as unemployed declined by 49,000 in June, falling to 2.833 million. Compared to the same month a year earlier, 32,000 fewer people were looking for work. That's a modest decline in the unemployment rate of 0.1 percent, down to 6.5 percent. Those are the figures reported by Germany's Federal Labor Agency (BA) on Tuesday.

Eurostat, the European Union's statistical agency, said, however, that Germany's unemployment rate is 5.1 percent. Moreover, Germany's "seasonally adjusted" unemployment rate increased very slightly last month.

So is the German unemployment rate rising or falling? In this case, neither the German nor European labor agencies are attempting to mislead anyone. They're simply using different definitions of "unemployed".

Playing with jobs statistics

Germany's national unemployment figure counts the number of people who have registered with the federal government as looking for work, divided by the number of people who have jobs. The official unemployment figure does not, however, include people who are not employed, but are also not looking for work. It also counts as 'employed' people who are in subsidized training programmes, people who are on sick leave, and a few other categories of people who are not actually at productive work.

Eurostat counts as 'unemployed' people aged 15 to 74 who are not working, have looked for work in the last four weeks, and are ready to start work within two weeks, a definition which tends to exclude the long-term unemployed. That's the main reason it tends to arrive at lower unemployment rate figures than Germany's national labor agency's statisticians calculate.

As for the "seasonally adjusted" rate - statisticians at the German federal labor office try to estimate the influence of seasonal patterns on employment. Unemployment always goes up during the coldest months, since some outdoor jobs cannot be done in winter. Statisticians take this into account and then "adjust" and "annualize" unemployment figures in order to try to measure the labor market trend. By that measure, Germany's unemployment rate is stagnant at the moment, even though in actual numbers of people working, the unemployment rate is falling.

Eurozone employment is stagnant

The overall number of unemployed workers in the 18-member eurozone remained unchanged from May, at 11.6 percent - even though

more people are working

compared to a year earlier. This figure conceals massive differences in the unemployment rate in various countries.

Spanien Arbeitslosigkeit Arbeitsamt

Spanish unemployment remains very high

According to Eurostat, using its particular methodology for counting the unemployment rate consistently across all eurozone countries, Austria has the lowest unemployment rate in the euro zone, at 4.7 percent, with Germany second lowest at 5.1 percent, while both Greece and Spain continue to struggle with general unemployment above 25 percent and youth unemployment well over 50 per cent.

So the employment trend in both Germany and Europe is either flat or very mildly improving, depending on precisely how things are measured -- but Germany is doing a great deal better than southern Europe.

nz/uhe (German Statistical Office, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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