LONDON (AP) — One bright spot in an otherwise somber economic picture for the 19-country eurozone has been the consistent fall in the ranks of the unemployed. The trend continued in January, when the jobless rate fell to a near four and a half-year low.
Statistics agency Eurostat said Tuesday the unemployment rate across the region fell to 10.3 percent in January from 10.4 percent the previous month, when adjusted for seasonal factors, as the number out of work declined by 105,000 to 16.65 million.
The rate now stands at its lowest since August 2011 and is the latest in a string of declines over the past couple of years following the end of the region's longest-ever recession. The improvement in recent months has been broad-based with declines recorded in most of the region's economies — Germany's unemployment rate stands at a low 4.3 percent.
Among the factors that have helped are stimulus from the European Central Bank, which has cut interest rates and injected money into the economy, less stringent budgetary policies, a lower euro and slumping oil prices.
Even so, the jobless rate remains high — more than double the U.S.'s rate of 4.9 percent, for example — and particularly so in certain countries. Spain and Greece have unemployment rates of 20.5 percent and 24.6 percent, respectively.
In many countries in the eurozone, unemployment is also generally too high to stoke much-needed inflation via higher wages. Figures released Monday showed that annual eurozone inflation fell to minus 0.2 percent in February, reinforcing market expectations that the ECB will pull provide more stimulus next week. Prices are falling even in Germany, showing how anemic inflation pressures are in the eurozone despite the fall in unemployment.
"While it is encouraging that there was a fall in the headline rate, it is important to recognize that this was only marginal and unlikely to put any meaningful upward pressure on wages," said Danae Kyriakopoulou, senior economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
Another worry is whether this sustained decrease in unemployment can endure given the headwinds in the global economy and the potential impact on the eurozone.
"The eurozone's recovery will remain under pressure because of the slowdown in China, continued geopolitical tensions with Russia, and the immigration crisis, while the weaker euro will likely support exports outside the single-currency region and low energy prices should continue supporting manufacturing sectors across the euro area," said Martin Janicko, economist at Moody's Analytics.