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Italy Unemployment Rate Remains Close to 20-Year-High Amid Slump

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April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Italy’s unemployment rate remained near a 20-year high in March as companies refrained from hiring amid political gridlock and the longest economic recession in two decades.

Joblessness was unchanged at 11.5 percent after the February reading was revised down from an initial 11.7 percent, the Rome-based national statistics office Istat said in a preliminary report today. The March rate was lower than the 11.7 percent median of six estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Unemployment remained above 10 percent for a 14th month.

The euro region’s third-biggest economy will shrink 1.8 percent this year amid rising unemployment and low consumer and investor confidence, Mooody’s Investors Service forecast April 26. That compares with the governmen’s estimate for a 1.3 percent contraction. The Rome-based Treasury also projected that joblessness will rise to 11.6 percent from 10.7 percent at the end of 2012. Italy’s newly appointed Prime Minister Enrico Letta told Italian lawmakers that employment will be the “top priority” of his government.

Still, consumer confidence unexpectedly increased in April as two months of political paralysis following inconclusive elections on February neared an end through the formation of the new government.

The unemployment rate for people between the age of 15 and 24 rose to 36.3 percent in March, Istat said today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lorenzo Totaro in Rome at ltotaro@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net

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