On Tuesday, official figures showed unemployment across the Eurozone edged lower in November.
The jobless rate among the nations that make up the single currency bloc fell to 8.7% of the working population overall, down from 8.8% in October. While this isn’t in itself that impressive a decline, the year-on-year fall in unemployment tells a different picture.
The jobless rate compared to November 2016 was lower by a full 1%. Not bad when you consider the Eurozone has a population of roughly 341 million right? Wrong.
Unemployment within the European Union (EU) – of which the Eurozone makes up two thirds – remains the biggest drag on Europe’s economic recovery.
Given the current strong economic growth supported by low inflation and easy monetary policy, the economy should be creating jobs at a very healthy rate indeed.
Growth in the EU this year is expected to be its best for seven years. In the third quarter of 2017 – the most recent data we have – the 19-member state Eurozone economy was estimated to have expanded by 2.6% compared with the same quarter a year earlier.
That is not a great deal off US economic growth for the same quarter – 3.3%. And yet unemployment in the US is half that of the Eurozone. So, something isn’t quite right.
While strong economic growth is to be welcomed if the benefits of that growth are not spread throughout the Eurozone – and that means employment – there is a danger that the economic recovery will be unequal.
And yet drill down into Tuesday’s unemployment figures and it is clear the economic recovery is already unequal. Unemployment in Greece is still above 20%. In Germany, it is just 3.6%.
Greece is far from the only southern European country with an unemployment problem either. Italy and Spain still have high levels of unemployment, particularly among the young.
So, the rich north stays rich, while the poor south stays poor.
The EU has talked of greater fiscal union for several years and yet is no closer to achieving it.
There were warm words at the most recent EU Summit about achieving closer fiscal union but progress towards it has been slow, even by European standards, and Brexit isn’t helping.
If Brussels fails to make progress before the next financial shock, southern Europe may well find itself in a very similar position to the one from which it is – only just – emerging.
Given the recent rise of populism and nationalism across the continent, the political ramifications of another recession under the status quo don’t bear thinking about.
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