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Spain's jobless hit four million for first time in five years as pandemic curbs bite

Nathan Allen and Belén Carreño
·2-min read

By Nathan Allen and Belén Carreño

MADRID (Reuters) - The number of jobless people in Spain rose above 4 million for the first time in five years in February, official data showed on Tuesday, as COVID-19 restrictions ravage the ailing economy.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Spain has lost more than 400,000 jobs, around two-thirds of them in the hospitality sector, which has struggled with limits on opening hours and capacity as well as an 80% slump in international tourism.

Jobless claims rose by 1.12% from a month earlier, or by 44,436 people to 4,008,789, Labour Ministry data showed, the fifth consecutive monthly increase in unemployment.

That number was 23.5% higher than in February 2020, the last month before the pandemic took hold in Spain.

"The rise in unemployment, caused by the third wave, is bad news, reflecting the structural flaws of the labour market that are accentuated by the pandemic," Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz tweeted.

Restrictions vary sharply from region to region in Spain, with some shutting down all hospitality businesses, though Madrid has taken a particularly relaxed approach and kept bars and restaurants open.

A total of 30,211 positions were lost over the month, seasonally adjusted data from the Social Security Ministry showed. It was the first month more positions were closed than created since Spain emerged from its strict first-wave lockdown in May.

Still, the number of people supported by Spain's ERTE furlough scheme across Spain fell by nearly 29,000 to 899,383 in February.

"These figures have remained more or less stable since September, indicating that the second and third waves of the pandemic have had a much smaller effect than the first in this regard," the ministry said in a statement.

Hotels, bars and restaurants and air travel are the sectors with the highest proportion of furloughed workers, it added.

Tourism dependent regions like the Canary and Balearic Islands have been particularly hard hit, with the workforce contracting by more than 6% since last February in both archipelagos.

The last time the number of jobless in Spain hit 4 million was in April 2016.

(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska, Nathan Allen and Belén Carreño, Editing by Inti Landauro, Kirsten Donovan and Philippa Fletcher)