UPDATE 1-French jobless claims hit 15-year high in Jan

Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:31pm EST

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PARIS Feb 26 (Reuters) - The number of people out of work in France shot up again in January after a smaller rise in December, piling new pressure on Socialist President Francois Hollande who has made tackling joblessness his top priority.

The number of jobseekers in mainland France jumped by 43,900 or 1.4 percent, signalling a return to the rapid pace of increase seen over 19 straight months to December - although half of the rise was due to a change in methodology in January.

Without the adjustment the January increase would have been 22,800, still a much bigger jump than the 8,000 seen in December and dealing a blow to Hollande, who has promised to stem the rise in unemployment by the end of 2013.

After already backtracking in recent days on his growth and deficit targets for 2013, Hollande admitted at the weekend that weak growth would make his unemployment target, which is much closer to voters' hearts, more difficult to reach.

The January jobless total of 3.17 million was the highest since July 1997 and close to the all-time high of 3.196 million,according to labour ministry data released on Tuesday.

Analysts polled by Reuters predict the unemployment rate, already above 10 percent, will keep rising until the start of next year.

The labour ministry data is the most frequently reported domestic jobs indicator for France, although it is not prepared according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards nor expressed as a percentage of job seekers in the work force.

In the change of methodology, the labour ministry on Jan. 1 pushed back the timeframe for when it removed people from its job seekers list. That means that 21,100 people who would have been struck off the roster in January will now be removed in February, artificially inflating January's data.

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