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People line up outside a job centre in Madrid. Spain's unemployment rate hit 18.7 per cent in May. ((Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press))

Unemployment in the 16 countries that use the euro spiked to a 10-year high in May, reinforcing concerns that any recovery will take time with more than 15 million people out of work.

Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said Thursday the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for the euro zone in May stood at 9.5 per cent of the work force, up from April's 9.3 per cent.

It said just over 15 million people were unemployed in May, up 273,000 on April's figure.

The increase was expected in the markets in light of the ongoing fall in output across Europe — in the first quarter of 2009, the euro zone economy saw output plunge by 2.5 per cent as the global recession hit the industrial sector in particular.

Spanish unemployment 18.7%

Spain is the euro zone's biggest casualty. Its jobless rate rose to 18.7 per cent in May from 18 per cent in April.

The lowest EU unemployment rate was in the Netherlands, where only 3.2 per cent of the working population were without a job in May, and Austria, where only 4.3 per cent were jobless.

The unemployment rate in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, was unchanged at 7.7 per cent in May.

Jobless numbers to rise

Unemployment is a lagging indicator, so jobless numbers will likely rise for a while even when the recession officially ends.

Recent economic releases have stoked hopes that the euro zone may start to see some sort of recovery towards the end of the year but that high unemployment levels will continue to weigh on consumption and sentiment.

"Given that labour market developments tend to lag behind those in the wider economy, unemployment almost certainly has considerably further to rise," said Jennifer McKeown, European economist at Capital Economics.

McKeown said she expects euro zone unemployment to hit 12 per cent next year, the level many people think the U.S. will hit too.

Including the 11 countries that don't use the euro but are in the EU, such as Britain and Sweden, the unemployment rate rose to 8.9 per cent in May from 8.7 per cent the previous month.

May's rate was the highest since June 2005.

The EU-wide rate has been swelled by the Baltic countries, which are in a deep recession following the collapse of debt-fuelled economic boom.

Latvia, whose economy slumped by a staggering 18 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter, saw its unemployment rate climb to 16.3 per cent in May from 15.3 per cent in April.