Euro-zone jobless rate, inflation stable

BRUSSELS — The unemployment rate across the 18-country euro zone remained at a near-record 12% in January and inflation was stable at a low level, according to official data released on Friday.

Some 19.175 million were without a job across the euro zone, or 17,000 more than in December. The jobless rate has held steady since October, the statistics agency Eurostat said on Friday.

The inflation rate, which stayed at 0.8% in February, is well below the European Central Bank's target rate of around 2%. Some analysts say the low rate means the bloc risks falling into deflation, when a drop in prices leads companies and consumers to delay purchases and investments, hurting growth.

A further drop in the inflation rate would have increased the pressure on the ECB to ease monetary policy further to shore up the recovery ahead of its rate-setting meeting next week.

"Stable euro-zone consumer inflation ... eases pressure on the ECB to take further stimulative action," said analyst Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight.

The unemployment rate for the wider 28-nation EU — which also includes members like Britain and Poland who don't use the euro currency — has also remained stable since October at 10.8%.

The Europe-wide statistics hide huge differences between economies. The unemployment rate is lowest in Austria and Germany at around 5% and stands at about 26% in Spain and 28% in Greece.

Youth unemployment, meanwhile, edged down across Europe. The rate of jobless for those aged under 25 in the euro zone fell by 0.1 percentage points to 24%, with 87,000 less jobless. In the wider EU, 171,000 young people found a job, bringing the unemployment rate down from 23.7% to 23.4%.

Youth unemployment was highest in Greece and Spain, where almost six out of ten under 25 are jobless, and lowest in Germany with a rate of only 7.6%.

Following last year's light recession, the euro zone is expected to grow by 1.2% in 2014 and by 1.8% next year, according to the most recent forecasts by the European Commission.

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