Eurozone unemployment falls to lowest level since May 2008

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Unemployment across the 19 countries that share the euro currency has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 12 years, official figures showed Thursday.

The European Union's statistics agency said the jobless rate fell to 7.4% in December from 7.5% the month before. Unemployment is now at its lowest rate since May 2008 and only 0.1 percentage point above its lowest ever reading. Overall, Eurostat said unemployment in the eurozone fell by 34,000, to 12.25 million.

Unemployment has been falling steadily across the eurozone over the past few years, particularly in the countries that were at the forefront of the region's debt crisis. However, disparities remain. Germany's unemployment rate, according to Eurostat, stands at just 3.2%, way below the 13.7% and 16.6% rates in Spain and Greece, respectively.

“While improvements in the labor market have slowed over the past few quarters, continued job growth does provide an important tailwind for the eurozone service sector and is set to continue in the months ahead as businesses remain relatively upbeat about hiring expectations," said Bert Colijn, senior eurozone economist at ING.

The outlook, though, will largely hinge on developments in the global economy and especially on whether there is an escalation in trade tensions, not least between the United States and China.

Figures on Friday are set to show that inflation in the eurozone remains fairly subdued, certainly below the European Central Bank's target of just below 2%, and growth relatively tepid.

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