Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 12:18 UK

EU unemployment hits 20 million

People queueing at a job centre in Madrid
Spain's unemployment rate is nearly double the EU average

Unemployment across the 27 EU member states reached 20 million in March.

And unemployment in the countries using the euro is at its highest level since 2005, according to the region's official statistics agency.

In March an estimated 419,000 people lost their jobs across the 16 countries in the eurozone.

The Eurostat data agency says levels of unemployment now stand at 8.9% of the population who are eligible for work, up from 8.7% in February.

EU officials estimate 3.5 million jobs will be lost across the whole of the EU this year.

"8.9% is a big increase. I think we will see rates probably at 10% at the end of the year for the eurozone," said Joerg Angele, an economist at Bayerishce Landesbank.

"In 2010, the rate will get much higher, perhaps 10%, 13% because the plunge in production is so massive, firms will fire a lot of people," he said.

Unemployment across all 27 countries of the EU rose to 8.3% from 8.1% in February.

There are now 20 million people out of work in the region according to Eurostat's latest figures, four million more than a year ago.

Wide variations

Spain has the highest rate of unemployment in the EU at 17.4%.

Analysts blame a fall in the number of tourists visiting the country and a collapse in the housing market for the high rate.

Unemployment is also high in the Baltic economies, which are not part of the eurozone.

In Latvia it stands at 16.1%, 15.5% in Lithuania and 11% in Estonia.

The Netherlands has the lowest rate of unemployment in Europe, at 2.8%.

Levels of unemployment are highest among people under 25 years old. Nearly one in five of are without a job across the whole of the EU.

Despite the gloomy figures, overall levels of employment went up in Romania, Bulgaria and Greece compared to this time last year.

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