Spain’s jobless rate soars above 17 percent

The collapse in Spain's construction industry has left thousands out of work and sites unfinished.
Spain’s jobless rate rose sharply, to 17.36 percent in the first quarter, with more than 4 million people out of work, the government said Friday.

Nearly half of the 4 million lost their jobs in the past year, the National Statistics Institute said. It’s the first time that Spain’s jobless total has exceeded 4 million, economist Carlos Maravall told CNN. The numbers did not surprise economists, who have been tracking steady increases of monthly jobless raw numbers from the government. But Spain’s official jobless rate is revised only every quarter. Spain’s previous rate of 13.9 percent, issued early this year for the fourth quarter of 2008, was already the highest in the European Union. When Spain’s jobless figure earlier topped 3 million, officials predicted it would not make 4 million.

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Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero recently shuffled his Cabinet, replacing the finance minister and others in a move to boost the economy. Zapatero predicts that public works subsidies distributed across the country will soon produce tens of thousands of jobs. Spain’s once-booming construction industry has been battered by the global economic crisis. But the latest government report shows more jobs were lost in the last quarter in the services sector, another pillar of the economy. The number of temporary workers declined in Spain, the government said. But economists say that’s because companies lay off those workers first. It costs a business in Spain about three times more to lay off a full-time employee. Increased unemployment was seen across all sectors and across the country, with the urban areas around Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia hit hard, the government said.