— The 17-nation eurozone has started 2013 on a grim note, with new statistics showing November unemployment at an all-time high.
There is optimism the worst of the eurozone crisis is over, but the latest figures
published by the European Union's statistical service offers a dose of reality.
Eurostat's November figures show unemployment in the eurozone currency union climbing to a record 11.8 percent - up 0.1 percent from October, and more than a percentage point from a year ago.
Deputy director Guntram Wolff, of Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel, predicts 2013 will be another tough year for the eurozone.
"I think it sends a clear message that the economic crisis is still there and certainly we still have a major problem with our structural unemployment, with the business cycle situation, with the general economic outlook," he said.
Roughly 19 million people living in the currency union are out of work, two million more than a year ago. Unemployment is highest in two of Europe's most indebted economies, Spain and Greece, with more than a quarter of their populations out of work.
Austria, Luxembourg and Germany score the best, with the respective jobless rates at just 4.5 percent, 5.1 percent and 5.4 percent. France ranks roughly in the middle of the 17-nation currency union, with 10.7 percent unemployed in November, which is also the average for the entire 27-member European Union.
Youth hardest hit
The region's youth are the hardest hit. Nearly one-quarter of young, working-age Europeans are out of a job. In Greece and Spain, nearly six in 10 can not find work.
"I am really afraid that we have a generation that is, in a sense, a lost generation," Wolff said. "Because at that age, if you are unemployed, you will lose not just one or two years of your lifetime job, but you will really lose confidence in yourself for your entire life."
Some analysts predict unemployment will rise this year, suggesting the eurozone's problems are far from over.
Jennifer McKeown, the senior European economist at Capital Economics in London, said she sees the jobless rate continuing to increase and that it could easily top 12 percent in the coming months.
"Lately, we have seen the rate increases have slowed a bit, which is broadly encouraging," she said. "But I suggest there are various public sector job cuts still in the pipeline and while the rate at which that is happening might be slowing in economies like Greece or like Portugal, it’s hitting harder now in core economies like France, so I think it’s fairly likely unemployment will continue rising."
McKeown said the jobless numbers point to a sharp divide in the economic fortunes of the eurozone nations, with countries on the geographic periphery performing much worse than those in the northern reaches of the currency bloc.
She added the divergence between the economies is nowhere clearer in the eurozone than in unemployment figures in Spain, for example, where the rate is over 26 percent, whereas Austrian unemployment is down at 4.5 percent.
"That’s just a massive divergence and I think its shows the eurozone is a very varied economy and it was bound to be very difficult to bring all the size economies together," McKeown said.