The Associated Press May 2, 2012, 07:37AM ET

German unemployment down to 7 percent

Germany's unemployment rate fell to 7 percent last month with less than 3 million registered as jobless -- the best April figure in 20 years, official figures showed Thursday.

Germany's labor agency says the unemployment rate slipped from 7.2 percent in March thanks to the continuing traditional springtime upturn and the country's robust economy.

A total of 2.96 million people were registered as unemployed in Europe's biggest economy, 65,000 fewer than in March and 115,000 fewer than a year ago, it said.

The April unemployment rate last fell under the psychologically important barrier of 3 million in 1992, when 2.94 million were jobless as the country experienced strong growth two years after its reunification with formerly communist East Germany.

In March, the most recent data available, a total of 41.2 million were registered as employed, up by 600,000 on the year, it said.

"We have a continuing positive labor market tendency, even though the economy has recently lost steam," said labor agency chief Frank-Juergen Weise.

Germany has led the 17-nation eurozone with two years of strong economic growth, though it's expected to grow by less than 1 percent this year after expanding by 3 percent in 2011.

The labor market is in good shape -- a contrast with countries badly hit by the eurozone debt crisis. Unemployment across the 17 countries that use the euro rose from 10.8 percent in February to 10.9 percent in March, its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999, official figures showed Wednesday. Unemployment rates in Spain and Greece lie above 20 percent.

In seasonally adjusted terms, however, German unemployment rose slightly in April, with 19,000 people additionally registering as jobless.

The agency said a statistical factor may have contributed to that increase because the cutoff date was within the Easter holidays, meaning some job starts could not be taken into account.

"Nevertheless, underlying labour market developments are not quite as positive anymore as they had been until January," cautioned analyst Timo Klein of IHS Global Insight.

Labor agency chief Weise said at a press conference in Nueremberg the increase was merely a statistical phenomenon and does not represent a change in the underlying positive trend, German news agency dapd reported.

The agency still expects that employers will add more jobs in the course of the year, resulting in an average of about 2.9 million unemployed throughout 2012.

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Juergen Baetz can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz


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