Switzerland maintains low jobless rate
The annual unemployment rate has fallen for the second straight year in Switzerland, dropping half a point to 3.3 per cent for 2006.
The jobless rate rose slightly at the end of the year after spending six months at 3.1 per cent, but this was due to seasonal factors according to experts.
"It's a fact that the improved economy had an impact on the job market," said Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard on Monday in Bern. "Last year saw the creation of 60,000 new jobs."
According to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), continuing good economic growth helped keep in check the number of jobless in the second half of the year.
The number of unemployed fell from 154,204 in January to 121,725 in July before finishing the year at 128,850. The 2006 average was 131,532, while the number of job seekers averaged about 197,414.
French-speaking Switzerland continues to be hardest hit by unemployment, with a rate approaching 4.8 per cent, two points higher than in the German-speaking part of the country. Geneva is the canton with the most people receiving unemployment benefit (seven per cent).
Unemployment among foreigners fell by 0.7 points to 6.1 per cent, compared with 2.5 per cent for Swiss nationals.
The jobless rate for 15 to 24 year olds fell the most (0.8 per cent) to 4.3 per cent, while it dropped to 3.3 per cent for 25 to 49 year olds. Unemployment for over-50s averaged 2.9 per cent last year.
Specialists blamed the slight increase in unemployment registered at the end of 2006 - 3.3 per cent - on seasonal factors.
The Swiss National Bank expects Switzerland to reach full employment this year with the jobless rate below three per cent. The government has forecast an average rate of 2.8 per cent.
Addressing the media, Leuthard emphasised that her goal was not only to continue to create jobs but to ensure the Swiss enjoyed a better work/life balance.
She said she hoped to achieve this by expanding childcare services and providing greater subsidies for them, which would encourage more women to enter the workforce.
Leuthard said she would lead the way by introducing family-friendly policies within the economics ministry, including more flexible working hours and covering up to 50 per cent of childcare costs.
swissinfo with agencies
During the economic recession of the 1990s, the number of jobless rose dramatically in Switzerland, reaching 5.7% in February 1997.
A gradual upturn in the economy at the end of the 1990s caused the unemployment rate to fall to 1.7% in 2001.
Since then it has fluctuated, reaching 3.3% last year.
Unemployment rates vary according to region: the French- and Italian-speaking areas have higher rates than the German-speaking ones.
Women tend to be worse affected than men and foreigners suffer from unemployment more than Swiss.
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