Spanish Unemployment Gives Campaign Fodder to Sanchez Opponents

(Bloomberg) -- Spain’s unemployment rate rose slightly, giving campaign-trail fodder for conservative opponents of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ahead of Sunday’s general election.

The level is the second-highest in the euro zone after Greece and, six years into an economic expansion, it remains the economy’s weak spot. While the election campaign has primarily focused on a simmering separatist movement in Catalonia and social issues, the data on Thursday give the opposition leaders a chance to criticize the Socialist premier’s handling of the economy.

The statistics office figures show unemployment rose to 14.7 percent in the first quarter of from 14.45 percent, the first increase since late 2017. The number of unemployed rose by 49,900 to 3.35 million people, the biggest first-quarter increase in six years.

Part of the increase is explained by calendar effects: the Easter week holiday fell this year in April, while in 2018 it fell in March.

In recent campaign debates, conservative opposition leaders have seized on a nearly 23 percent increase in the minimum wage in January as a headwind for the labor market. While economists expect the measure to destroy as many as tens of thousands of jobs, they say its effects aren’t yet clear.

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