Young jobless rate hits new peak amid recession

(By Denis Greenan). (ANSA) - Rome, November 29 - Unions and employees were dismayed when new record jobless rates in recession-hit Italy emerged Friday, especially for the young, but Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini said he saw light at the end of the tunnel.

The unemployment rate for 15-24-year-olds who are part of the working population climbed to 41.2% in October from 40.4% in September, according to provisional data released by national statistics agency Istat Friday.

It is the highest level since Istat started using its current unemployment calculation method for monthly data, in January 2004, and for quarterly data, in the first quarter of 1977.

The jobless rate among Italians aged 18 to 29 rose an annual 5.2% to 28% in the third quarter, Istat said.

Almost 1.7 million people in that age bracket are out of work, a rise of 17.2%, it said.

The overall unemployment rate stayed at a record high of 12.5% in October, the same as September when it rose 0.1%.

Joblessness rose 1.2% on an annual basis, Istat said.

Giovannini refused to be dismayed at the news, saying the green shoots of recovery, peeping out of the ground, have yet to be reflected in the job market.

The data, he said, "are not surprising.

"The stability of employment and unemployment is coherent with the economic picture.

"Signs of a reawakening are happening now".

Giovannini went on to downplay the crisis in the youth job market, saying the government was starting to get to grips with the emergency.

"Youth unemployment has gone up slightly despite the 15,000 jobs created with our measures for youth employment.

"The figures would have been worse without this intervention.

"The data, albeit negative, are not surprising," he insisted.

Italy is struggling to emerge from its longest recession in 20 years.

As well as having the fifth-highest European youth jobless rate behind Greece, Spain, Croatia and Cyprus, it also suffers from one of the highest rates of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETS) and countless young Italians are continuing to seek jobs abroad.

The CGIL trade union federation, Italy's largest and most left-wing, was not impressed by Giovannini's optimism.

The Istat data, said National Secretary Serena Sorrentino, "confirm the need to change economic policy by investing in job creation".

The minister's upbeat assessment, she said, was "incomprehensible, unless extraordinary measures are taken".

The recent measures to foster youth employment, Sorrentino said, "clash with the fact that firms' willingness to hire has gone down, especially as regards permanent contracts".

The head of the industrial employers' federation Confindustria, Giorgio Squinzi, was dismissive of Giovannini's comments.

"Lucky him," was all he responded to a journalists's question.

Italy's cruel economic downturn continued in the third quarter of 2013 but the government voiced hope the economy would soon pick up and start creating jobs, especially for the young.

Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni stressed the latest gloomy news did not mean the 2014 budget, currently going through parliament before approval by Christmas, would need to be changed.

Italy posted its ninth consecutive quarter of negative growth in the July-September period, when its gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 0.1% on the previous quarter.

The national statistics agency said Italy's GDP was 1.9% down in the third quarter with respect to the same period in 2012.

The fact that GDP only edged down by 0.1% fed hopes the recession will end in the fourth quarter and Italy can look forward to a full year of positive growth in 2014.

"The recovery is within reach in 2014," Premier Enrico Letta said.

"There are signs that we can reverse the trend.

"Even though it cannot be seen in the figures yet, I'm confident we can get going again".

Letta has repeatedly vowed to fight unemployment.

He included growth-stoking moves in the budget, although they have been criticised as being too timid.

Letta has called youth unemployment a "national nightmare" and has admitted the country risks "losing an entire generation".

He will chair the third European Union jobs summit in Rome in April and is pushing to get the EU to take a stronger turn from austerity to stimulus policies.

Italy's term as duty head of the EU in the second half of next year will have unemployment as its priority, Letta says.

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