Euro-area unemployment reaches record 12 percent

A private security-services guard stands in front of the bank’s main door as people wait, outside a branch of Laiki Bank in Nicosia, Cyprus. Banks in Cyprus have reopened to customers after being shuttered for two weeks. Enlarge photo

Petros Karadjias/Associated Press

A private security-services guard stands in front of the bank’s main door as people wait, outside a branch of Laiki Bank in Nicosia, Cyprus. Banks in Cyprus have reopened to customers after being shuttered for two weeks.

LONDON – The eurozone economy has passed another bleak milestone.

Official figures Tuesday showed that unemployment across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro has struck 12 percent for the first time since the currency was launched in 1999.

Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, said the rate in February was unchanged at the record high after January’s figure was revised up to 12 percent from 11.9 percent.

Spain and Greece have mass unemployment and many other countries are seeing their numbers swell to uncomfortably high levels as governments across the region enact tough austerity measures to get a handle on their burgeoning debts.

The eurozone, which is made up of a little more than 330 million people, is one of the world’s major economic pillars and the turmoil surrounding it has been one of the main reasons why the global recovery has been muted.

A total of 19.07 million people were officially out of work in the eurozone in February, nearly two million more than the same month the year before. For the 27-country European Union, of which the eurozone is a large part, the unemployment rate was 10.9 percent.

“Such unacceptably high levels of unemployment are a tragedy for Europe and a signal of how serious a crisis some eurozone countries are now in,” said EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor.

Even though the eurozone has achieved another disappointing record, for the positively inclined there was some comfort to be found.

The 33,000 increase in the number of unemployed in February was the smallest monthly rise since April 2011 and way down on the 222,000 recorded in January. And Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has an unemployment rate of only 5.4 percent. That’s even better than the U.S. rate of 7.7 percent.