The number of people in Spain filing for unemployment benefits hit a 15-year high in December.
The Labor Ministry said Tuesday that 4.42 million people are now out of work and receiving benefits, as December saw the fifth straight monthly rise. The increase was small though, at only 1,897 people, or less than 0.1 percent, thanks mainly to Christmas holiday hiring.
However, for 2011 as a whole the number of people receiving benefits in Spain spiked by nearly 8 percent compared to 2010, which saw only a 4.5 percent rise. And in December 2010, the number of people filing for benefits actually dropped by more than 10,000 compared to the previous month.
Spain's overall jobless rate _ which includes people whose unemployment benefits have run out _ is released separately and quarterly. It stands at around 5 million and at a eurozone high of 21.5 percent as of the end of the third quarter.
The new figures released Tuesday reflect how Spain's economy ground to a halt in the second half of this year after posting timid growth in the first two quarters, Deputy Labor Minister Engracia Hidalgo said.
She said reforms undertaken by the previous Socialist government failed to energize Spain's rigid labor market.
The new government led by the conservative Popular Party, which swept to victory in Nov. 20 elections, has promised more aggressive labor market reforms soon to boost employment.