Eurozone unemployment holds at nine-year low of 8.7%

Brussels – Europe’s economic recovery remains on track, with eurozone unemployment staying at its lowest level since January 2009, but inflation remains stubbornly low, official figures show.

The EU’s official statistics agency announced Wednesday that the jobless rate in the single currency remained steady at 8.7 percent in December, with inflation slowing to 1.3 percent in January.

Unemployment for the EU as a whole in December was also unchanged at 7.3 percent — the lowest since October 2008, Eurostat said.

The data lands a day after the agency said the euro area economy grew 2.5 percent in 2017, the fastest pace in a decade, with Europe now a pillar of the global economy after years of crisis.

The string of solid data comes on the back of three years of massive support by the European Central Bank (ECB) to help the 19-country single currency zone survive the eurozone debt crisis crises.

The ECB has bought more than 2 trillion euros worth of bonds during that time, helping trigger growth and lift prices out of deflation in Europe.

The purchases, which the ECB is gradually scaling back, are set to run until the end of September amid expectations that the recovery will continue to gain momentum.

But despite the economic upswing, inflation remains low and well below the central bank’s two percent target, which may give ECB head Mario Draghi second thoughts about turning the stimulus off completely this year.

Unemployment remained high in Greece on 20.7 percent in October, the last month for which figures were available, Spain at 16.4 percent, and Italy at 10.8 percent, ahead of March elections.

German unemployment remained super-low with 3.6 percent in December, as well as the Netherlands, with 4.4 percent.

At the worst of the debt crisis in 2013, unemployment reached a record 12.1 percent.

Since then, the economic situation has slowly improved, but unemployment remains much higher than the average rate before the crisis, when it was 7.5 percent.