The number of jobless in Spain hit a new record high in February, casting a shadow over the government's claims that after the country's worst recession in decades the economic recovery is just around the corner.
The Labor Ministry said Wednesday that the ranks of the unemployed swelled by 68,260 from January to 4.299 million, over a fifth of the working population. A drop in the number of workers signed up with the Social Security system indicated a renewed loss of jobs.
Labor Minister Valeriano Gómez had flagged the bad news the previous day, warning that February is normally a "bad month" for the labor market.
But the Labor Ministry's figures undermined that argument. With a few exceptions, the number of jobless had fallen in February up to the start of the deterioation in the economy at the beginning of 2008. The figure for February of this year was worse than in 2009, although it represented an improvement over 2009 and 2010.
The services sector, which represents two thirds of the labor market, accounted for over half of the new additions to the number of unemployed. First-time jobseekers also continued to rise. The figures also confounded expectations of a fall in the size of the active population, which in fact has risen 24 percent over the past 12 months.
The secretary of state for employment acknowledged the "bad figure," but took some heart from the fact that the rise in unemployment this year was slightly below that in the corresponding month in 2009 and 2010.
There also seems little hope of an improvement in March as the Easter holiday period, which normally sees an increase in temporary hiring, falls in April this year. Omitting seasonal factors, the increase in unemployment last month from January was 36,075.
After the height of the crisis at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, job destruction seemed to be easing. The figures for February, however, painted a different picture, with the number of people signed up with the Social Security system falling by 225,257 from a year earlier to 17.3 million.