Eurozone unemployment spike held down by support schemes

FRANKFURT, Germany — The unemployment rate across the 19 countries that use the euro currency rose modestly to 7.9% in July, official figures showed today. The number of people losing their jobs has been held down by temporary government job-support programs and the relaxation of some coronavirus containment measures.

However, weaker inflation amid sweeping announcement of layoffs suggest that the eurozone economy faces a long struggle to recover.

The eurozone’s overall jobless rate inched up from 7.7% in June as the number of people labelled as unemployed increased by 344,000, according to Eurostat. In the same month a year earlier the jobless rate was 7.5%

Government programs that temporarily pay part of workers’ wages if companies do not lay them off have helped keep millions on the job but the respite might not last as the coronavirus continues to restrict travel and activity.

Major employers have announced thousands of layoffs to counter what is expected to be reduced business in the months ahead. Some are household names such as automaker Renault, airline Lufthansa, travel company TUI, and industrial conglomerate ThyssenKrupp.

Virus cases have risen in Spain, France and Germany in recent days, raising fears of a further wave of restrictions on gatherings and activity.

A further sign of weakness in the eurozone economy was evident in August inflation figures showing consumer prices falling by 0.2% from the year before. The negative reading was down from a 0.4% increase in July. Analysts attributed some of the drop to the late timing of summer sales in France and Italy and to a cut in sales taxes paid on consumer purchases in Germany.

The European Central Bank is pumping 1.35 trillion euros ($1.6 trillion) in newly printed money into the economy through bond purchases, a step aimed at pushing up inflation to more normal levels and supporting the recovery. ECB officials have said the bank intends to use the full amount due to the bank’s baseline expectation for a very subdued inflation outlook.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and fuel prices, sagged to 0.4% from 1.2%. That is a sign of ongoing weakness in demand, said Jack Allen-Reynolds, senior Europe economist at Capital Economics. He said the jobs and inflation figures released Tuesday “put the ECB’s challenge in stark relief” compared with the situation facing the U.S. Federal Reserve.

“While the Fed has recently announced that it will tolerate above-2% inflation, the ECB is struggling even to hit its more modest aim of ‘below, but close to, 2%’ inflation,” Allen-Reynolds said. “Monetary policy in the eurozone will need to remain extremely loose for many more years to come.”