May 16, 2019 / 5:36 AM / 8 days ago

French unemployment rate eased to reach decade low of 8.7% in first quarter

FILE PHOTO: A job seeker arrives at a job forum dedicated to recruiting at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s unemployment rate fell slightly in the first quarter to hit its lowest level in a decade, official data showed on Thursday, offering a boost to President Emmanuel Macron on the economics front.

The INSEE statistics office said the jobless rate had slipped to 8.7 percent from 8.8 percent in the fourth quarter, reaching its lowest level since the start of 2009.

A steady improvement in the labour market offers Macron some relief after months of regular street protests against the high-cost of living and his pro-business economic reform drive.

Macron sought in the first months of his presidency in 2017 to tackle unemployment by overhauling the labour code to make hiring and firing easier, as employers have long wanted.

Although growth has been low over the last year, the economy continues to add thousands of new jobs, pushing the employment rate to its highest level since 1980. INSEE said it was steady in the first quarter from the fourth quarter, at 66.1 percent.

Excluding French overseas territories where joblessness tends to be higher, the unemployment rate in mainland France also fell to a 10-year low of 8.4 percent, down from 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta

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