PARIS (Reuters) - France’s unemployment rate fell back during the second quarter to reach its lowest level since the end of 2008 and offer some relief for President Emmanuel Macron in the face of a slowing economy and anti-government protests.
The INSEE national statistics office said the unemployment rate in France, which is the euro zone’s second-biggest economy, fell to 8.5% in the second quarter from 8.7% in the first.
That marked the lowest level since it stood at 7.8% for the fourth quarter of 2008, although it remained above an unemployment rate of around 5% in Germany, the euro zone’s biggest economy.
A steady improvement in the jobs market has given Macron some relief in the face of months of street protests against government policies often criticized for favoring the wealthier members of society.
French Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said in a statement that the latest figures showed progress in terms of young people taking up apprenticeships and jobs.
“The government’s reforms are starting to bear fruit for our citizens. A lot of jobs are being created, especially in terms of permanent contracts, because companies - especially small firms - are no longer scared to hire,” said Penicaud.
In July, online retail giant Amazon (AMZN.O) announced 1,800 new jobs in France while luxury fashion company Hermes (HRMS.PA) announced 130 new jobs in June, although by contrast furniture retailer Conforama cut jobs.
OECD economist Stephane Carcillo said France still needed to do more in terms of cutting the unemployment level.
Others said the outlook for France and Germany remained uncertain given their broader economic slowdowns and exposure to the impact of global trade disputes, with Germany’s economy having shrunk in the second quarter.
“Whilst the moderate fall in the French unemployment rate may be welcome for Macron, it is the very weak GDP growth numbers that will be of great concern,” said Lorne Baring, managing director at Geneva-based investment firm B Capital.
“The French economy advanced only 0.2 percent in the last quarter, easing from 0.3 percent growth in the previous period and missing market expectations. The question is whether both France and Germany can exit the malaise that is ringing recession alarm bells for investors,” added Baring.
Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Additional reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Stephen Powell