Italy jobless records put heat on Monti in poll race

ROME Tue Jan 8, 2013 4:20pm IST

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti speaks during a news conference in Rome January 4, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti speaks during a news conference in Rome January 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's jobless rate remained at a record high in November while youth unemployment jumped to a new peak above 37 percent, data showed on Tuesday.

Italy has been in a deep recession since the middle of 2011 and unemployment has risen steadily as businesses clamp down on staffing levels to cope with crumbling domestic demand.

The plight of the unemployed and particularly young people will be a crunch issue at the election and outgoing Prime Minister Monti, who heads a centrist group, has been criticized by opponents on the left and right of hurting the economy in his efforts to fix public finances.

Unemployment was stable in November at October's record high of 11.1 percent, national statistics institute ISTAT reported.

Joblessness rose above 11 percent in October for the first time since the first quarter of 1999. Before January 2004 ISTAT only issued quarterly jobs data.

November's rate was marginally below a forecast of a further rise to 11.2 percent in a Reuters survey of analysts, but it was up 1.8 percentage points from November 2011 when Monti was appointed to save Italy from a mounting debt crisis.

The youth unemployment rate, referring to 15-24 year-olds, jumped for the third month running in November to 37.1 percent, its highest level since records began in 1992.

Companies are reluctant to give new recruits regular contracts because strong job protection means it is hard to fire them. So young people tend to move from one temporary contract to the next, and opportunities have dried up in the recession.

Monti sought to address the problem with a hotly contested labor reform passed last summer, but critics say that by making it more costly and complicated for firms to offer temporary contracts the reform discouraged hiring in the recession.

"You always hope that if you put some effort in you will get something back," said 22 year-old Michele Andaloro as he lined up in search of work at one of Rome's largest job centers.

"The next government needs to work for the future of young people and not behave like in the past."

Analysts say the growing financial difficulties of families are also forcing more young people to look for work rather than study or live off family income.

In a dismal series of records, the employment rate edged down in November to a 12-month low of 56.8 percent, while the male employment rate fell to 66.3 percent, the lowest since records began in 1992.

"The worst hit by the crisis are those in the industrial section and construction," an ISTAT spokeswoman said.

Italian industrial output is still more than 25 percent lower than its level of mid-2008, before the recession brought on by the global financial crisis.

Analysts say the real challenge for Italy is to increase its chronically low rates of employment and participation in the labor market, which are among the lowest in the industrialized world, especially among women, the young and the elderly.

(additional reporting by Cristiano Corvino)

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)

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