The jobless rate in Italy has pushed to its highest level since 2001, according to statistics released Monday, showing that while recent austerity measures have helped tame investor fears, they are not yet having their intended impact on Italian workers.
The Italian Statistics Institute, or ISTAT, reported Monday that 9.3 percent of Italians were unemployed in February.
That is still better than the 10.8 percent rate recorded for the European Union as a whole, also on Monday, but the situation in Italy is still considered worse than in many places because of low levels of consumer confidence, anemic economic growth prospects, and the fact that much of the population is employed part-time or unemployed and not looking for work, meaning they are not reflected in the statistics. The unemployment level was 9.1 percent the previous month.
There is good news in Italy. The yield on Italy's benchmark ten-year bond traded Monday at just 5.1 percent, safely below the 7-percent threshold that sent Greece, Ireland, and Portugal asking for bailout funds last year.
Italian bonds traded above the unsustainable 7-percent level in November, December, and the start of January before retreating to current levels as the government's austerity initiatives slashed debt and reduced spending, sufficiently assuaging investor fears that the country could be forced to default on its debt.
But gradually improving investor sentiment has yet to have a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of Italians, who are suffering from falling wages and a growing overall tax burden. And it does not appear things will change in the near term: The European Union also reported Monday that its latest estimates are that the Italian economy will contract 1.3 percent in 2012 compared to 2011 already weak growth levels.
Meanwhile, unemployment levels among the youngest workers -- aged 15 to 24 -- continues to be a drag on the economy, reaching an astonishing 31.9 percent in February, up nearly a full point from 31.0 percent in January, ISTAT said.
Experts said that the weak employments levels could rob the technocrat government led by former European commissioner Mario Monti of the public support it needs for future reforms.
"It's clear that the Italian economy has backed away from the cliff in the last months, but without something tangible for most Italians to see, the recovery is not going to seem real," Alberto Melancon, an economic analyst with ABS Securities in Milan, told Xinhua.
"And if the recovery does not seem real, then you're going to see support for Monti start to erode."
So far, that has not happened. Though his approval levels have dropped from the heights reached immediately after he replaced controversial predecessor Silvio Berlusconi last November, polling company Opinioni reports they remain comfortably above 50 percent.
But it's not clear how long that will remain the case if the jobless situation does not start to improve. The government's best hope at putting workers back to work is a labor market reform plan announced by Monti's cabinet March 23.
The plan, which increases jobless benefits, reduces temporary contracts, and makes it easier for employers to hire and fire workers, is waiting on parliamentary approval.
Monti, in China Monday for the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, called for parliament to pass the measure quickly. But as of late Monday, the measure has not appeared on the official parliamentary agenda.