New “war of words” over “lowest employment figures since 1998”

On the face of it, the figures can be interpreted as a good indication that Portugal’s economic doldrums are at last picking up some wind – but closer analysis shows otherwise, and this is what has inflamed politicians as the country braces itself for the looming October elections.

As Público explains this morning, the rate of unemployment fell in the second three-month period of this year to 11.9% “which represents the most positive change since 1998”.

But the truth is there are far fewer jobs available than there were only four years ago, and there are of course far fewer people of working age resident in the country.

It is these “details”, along with quite a few others, that are dividing politicians as they try to press party-political agendas in the pre-electoral campaign.

According to Público, “if the number of unemployed people is now 38,000 less than compared with the moment the troika arrived, the number of employed people continues to be substantially less, a difference of 219.000”.

And that is before one counts the legions of people who have simply fallen off registers by no longer be eligible for unemployment benefit, and those who have been tidied away into “professional training”.

As Opposition MPs generally blow holes in the government’s figures, the PCP Communists have calculated that a truer analysis would show unemployed “far above 30%”, taking into account the 500,000 nationals “forced to emigrate”, the 250,000 “inactive and unaccounted for”, as well as the 240,000 in a situation of “underemployment” (working part-time when they want and need to work full-time).

In the middle of all the mudslinging and point-making stands statistics institute INE, which Público stresses feels “uncomfortable” over the various interpretations of its data.

UGT union boss Carlos Silva has come to the rescue, saying there is no point trashing everything all the time.

“We should say ‘well done’ when we can. When things get worse, we will still be here to berate the government, whoever is in power,” he added.

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