LONDON (AP) — Unemployment across the 19-country eurozone has fallen to its lowest rate in a little more than four years, official figures showed Thursday in the latest sign that the economic recovery in the region ended 2015 on a relatively chipper note.
Following surveys this week that suggested the eurozone economy is poised for solid growth in 2016, statistics agency Eurostat found that the unemployment rate in the region fell to 10.5 percent in November from 10.6 percent the previous month. The rate has not been lower since October 2011, when the eurozone was mired in a debt crisis that raised questions over the future of the single currency bloc.
Perhaps most encouragingly, the statistics agency found that the number of unemployed fell by 130,000 people during the month. That took the total down to 16.9 million people in a population of around 330 million.
It's the first time since November 2011 that unemployment in the eurozone has been below 17 million, evidence that the steady quarterly growth of between 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent seen over the past year is helping the labor market.
Though the unemployment numbers are encouraging, big disparities remain across the region with many countries, such as Spain and Greece, still lumbered with jobless rates above 20 percent. In contrast, Germany's unemployment rate was just 4.5 percent in November. The differences among the bloc's young workers are even more dramatic. Again in Spain and Greece, the rate of unemployment among those aged 15 to 24 is almost 50 percent.
Though the overall figures suggest that the economic recovery from recession, which had lasted for more than two years, is paying some dividends in the labor market, there's little evidence that the region is poised for a turbo-charged liftoff. Anxiety is growing over trouble in the global economy, particularly in China, where financial markets are extremely volatile.
Separate figures from Eurostat showing that retail sales fell in November for the third straight month show that the recovery is patchy. In November, retail sales declined 0.3 percent.
Subdued consumer spending over the past few months has come as somewhat of a surprise to many economists as a number of factors should be supportive. These include the sharp fall in fuel prices at the pump in the wake of the slide in oil prices, as well as super-low inflation.
A December survey from the European Union's executive arm suggested there was unlikely to have been much of an improvement in the crucial period around Christmas. Though the European Commission's economic sentiment indicator struck a 4-1/2 year high, retail sector confidence eased slightly, possibly in light of the Paris attacks of Nov. 13 that killed 130 people.
"Contracting retail sales are particularly surprising within the context of low energy prices, which should be providing some additional disposable income to European consumers," said Angel Talavera, eurozone economist at Oxford Economics. "However, given the lag present in the data, we may still see a bounce in sales in the coming months given the renewed weakness in oil prices at the start of 2016."