Page last updated at 07:05 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 08:05 UK

Australian unemployment rate up

Australian shoppers walk past a shop urging them to spend their stimulus cheques
Though Australia has felt the downturn, its companies are not firing heavily

Australian unemployment has surged to a seven-year high as the global downturn continued to hit companies.

The unemployment rate jumped to 5.7% in May, after an unexpected fall to a revised 5.5% in April.

"We've always said we were not immune from the global recession," said Employment Minister Julia Gillard.

But the number of people employed fell by just 1,700 from April, far less than the drop of 30,000 that many economists had been predicting.

While unemployment measures the number of people looking for jobs, the employment rate is based on surveys from employers and reflects net hirings and dismissals..

Avoiding recession

Recent data has convinced many observers that the worst of the slump may be over for Australia.

Total employment in Australia has fallen by 9,400 so far in 2009, compared with a drop of 2.9 million in the US. The US unemployment rate is now at a 25-year high of 9.4%.

On Wednesday, a survey showed Australian consumers swung to optimism for the first time in 17 months.

The Australian government said earlier this month that it had unexpectedly avoided falling into recession. The economy grew by 0.4% in the first three months of 2009.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the country was now the only advanced economy not in recession.

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