German unemployment largely steady despite lockdown

German unemployment held more or less steady in February despite the impact of lockdown measures, according to official data released today. Extensive use of a short-term salary support program is keeping the figures in check.

The unadjusted jobless rate, the headline figure in Germany, was unchanged from January at 6.3%. Just over 2.9 million people were registered as unemployed in the nation of 83 million — 4,000 more than the previous month and 509,000 more than a year earlier.

In seasonally adjusted terms, unemployment remained at 6%, though 9,000 more people were out of work than in January, the Federal Labor Agency said.

While that was the first increase in seasonally adjusted unemployment in February since 2014, it was “probably more the result of the harsh winter weather in February than the lockdowns,” ING economist Carsten Brzeski said.

Most stores have been closed in Germany since Dec. 16. Restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities have been closed since Nov. 2 and hotels are allowed only to accommodate business travelers. Industry has not been directly affected by lockdown measures.

Many elementary students returned to school last week and hairdressers reopened Monday. On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors will confer on how to move forward.

Rises in unemployment in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, and elsewhere on the continent have been moderate by international standards. That is because employers are making heavy use of salary support programs, often referred to as furlough schemes, which allow them to keep employees on the payroll while they await better times.

In Germany, the labor agency pays at least 60% of the salary of employees who are on reduced or zero hours.

The labor agency said it paid support for 2.39 million people in December, the most recent month it has figures for. That was up slightly from 2.38 million in November and 2.01 million in October, but still far below a peak of nearly 6 million last April.