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Number of unemployed in eurozone dips slightly but jobless rate remains at 11.6 per cent

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AMSTERDAM - The number of unemployed people in the 18 eurozone countries declined fractionally in May, but not enough to bring down the jobless rate, which remained at 11.6 per cent compared with a month earlier.

The European Union's statistics office, Eurostat, said Tuesday the overall number of unemployed workers in the countries that use the euro decreased by 28,000 from the previous month to 18.6 million.

The report shows Europe's economy is still recovering too slowly to make a significant improvement in the labour market.

In the wider European Union, which includes non-euro countries like Britain or Sweden, the jobless rate edged down to 10.3 per cent from 10.4 per cent the month before.

Divergence remains strong between the countries of northern and southern Europe: German unemployment was 5.1 per cent, while Italy's was 12.6 per cent and Spain's was 25.1 per cent.

By comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate was at 6.3 per cent in May.

Economists said the lack of any real improvement is troubling, despite proclamations by some European politicians that the worst of the continent's economic crisis is behind it.

"May's unemployment data highlight that the eurozone's economic recovery is still too weak to erode the significant amount of slack in the labour market," said Jessica Hinds of Capital Economics in a research note.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has said that among his greatest worries is that high unemployment in the eurozone, a problem for years, becomes entrenched. When a large part of the labour force is out of work for an extended period of time, people fail to gain new skills they need to be productive and help the economy grow.

Tuesday's report showed youth unemployment in particular remains a grave problem, at 23.3 per cent across the eurozone. It is at crisis levels in southern Europe, with both Spain and Greece showing unemployment rates for people under the age of 25 at over 50 per cent.

Economists say that causes huge harm to long-term prospects for the eurozone's economies, as a generation of youth is missing out on skills typically gained in the workplace.

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