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The number of unemployed people in the EU stood at 23.8 million in December 2011, i.e. 1.1 million more than in March 2011, when the declining trend in unemployment was reversed.
Consequently, the EU unemployment rate is still at its historic high of 9.9 %, or 0.5 pp up on March 2011. This contrasts with the apparent downward trend of unemployment in the US.
Divergence remains high among EU labour markets. Since March 2011 there are clear signs that the downward trend has been reversed in the majority of countries. Only seven of them still benefited from a decline over the last three months under review: Germany, Romania, Belgium, Finland and the Baltic States.
Meanwhile, the number of unemployed increased in eighteen Member States, affecting most large countries, such as the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Poland, but also Greece, Portugal and the Netherlands. The substantial and continued fall in unemployment in Germany has prevented the EU total from worsening even further.
Youth unemployment remains very worrying, although its rate did not rise further in December 2011 compared to November, and stands at 22.1 %. This is 1.1 pps up on December 2010. At 5.5 million in December 2011, there were still 241 000 more than a year before.
Huge contrasts persist between Member States: the youth unemployment rate is higher than 20 % in about two-thirds of countries and close to 50 % in Spain and Greece, while it is less than 10 % in only three countries: Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
In the currently uncertain economic context, European consumers' expectations on unemployment remain generally pessimistic, while employment prospects remain gloomy in the tertiary sector and in construction.
However, hiring activity seems to remain positive with online labour demand continuing to grow, at a significantly slower pace, while growth in the agency work sector has slowed down further. At the same time, restructuring activity increased in January, with a clearly negative impact on jobs.