Madrid: Spain announced Friday a sharp contraction in jobless queues in December, offering a glimmer of New Year hope for the 4.7 million people still registered as unemployed in the Eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government touted the figures as a sign that its tough reforms are finally turning the tide after a 2008 property crash tipped the nation into a double-dip recession that destroyed millions of jobs.
The number of people registered as unemployed fell by 107,570 from the previous month to 4.7 million in December, according to raw figures in a Labour Ministry report.
For the whole of 2013, the jobless queue shrank by 147,385 people, the raw figures showed, the first calendar year showing a decline in registered unemployment since Spain’s financial crisis began.
Engracia Hidalgo, the state secretary for employment, said the conservative government’s labour market reforms, which made it easier to change conditions or lay off staff, were working.
“These are encouraging figures which inspire us to carry on working for the recovery and employment in 2014,” she said.
When corrected to smooth out seasonal blips, the number of people registered as unemployed fell by 57,645 to 4.73 million, the sharpest decline since the figures were first compiled in their current form in 1996.
In the third quarter, Spain emerged from recession with 0.1-per cent growth but still posted an official unemployment rate of 25.98 per cent, which is calculated in a separate, quarterly household survey.
As economic activity stirred, Spanish consumer prices edged only slightly higher in December as concerns lingered in the Eurozone about the threat of deflation, a general fall in prices that, once entrenched, can tip an economy into downward spiral.
Spanish consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 0.3 per cent in December, unchanged from the previous month, according to a preliminary report by the National Statistics Institute.
Inflation hit a recent peak of 3.5 per cent in October 2012 after the government increased the sales tax so as to narrow its budget deficit but it fell to zero in October 2013.
The International Monetary Fund has warned that Spain faces five more years with unemployment rates topping 25 per cent unless it enacts yet more reforms including measures to help firms slash wages instead of axing staff.