Italy December jobless rate remains near highest level since 1970s

ROME Fri Jan 31, 2014 4:05am EST

People check job offers outside a recruitment agency in downtown Milan April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

People check job offers outside a recruitment agency in downtown Milan April 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 12.7 percent in December, just a notch below the revised 12.8 percent rate for November, remaining near its highest since the 1970s, data showed on Friday.

Previously the November jobless rate was reported at 12.7 percent, which was the highest level since statistics office ISTAT began recording the data in 1977.

Unemployment has been rising steadily since early 2011 as Italy has languished in its longest post-war recession.

December's figure was in line with the median forecast of 12.7 percent in a Reuters survey.

The employment rate was 55.3 percent compared with 55.4 in November.

Youth unemployment, measuring job-seekers between 15 and 24 years old, was 41.6 percent in December, down slightly from a revised 41.7 percent in November. Youth unemployment is also hovering near its highest level in 37 years.

Analysts say the biggest challenge for Italy is to increase its chronically low rates of employment and participation in the labor market, which are among the lowest in the industrialized world, especially among women, the young and the elderly.

New center-left leader Matteo Renzi is preparing to unveil a new Jobs Act that aims to lower labor costs and simplify the complex system of employment contracts widely blamed for deterring Italian employers from hiring new staff.

Figures last year from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed the tax wedge in Italy - the difference between what it costs a company to employ a worker and the worker's take home pay - at 47.6 percent against an average for the rest of the 34-member bloc of 35.6 percent.

In December, there were 25,000 fewer people working compared with the previous month, and 424,000 fewer than the same month last year, ISTAT said.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer)

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