PARIS (Reuters) – France’s unemployment rate fell unexpectedly at the end of last year to its lowest level since the start of 2009, data published by the INSEE national statistics office on Thursday showed.
The jobless rate fell to 8.8 percent from 9.1 percent in the previous quarter, the lowest level since the first quarter of 2009 in the depths of the global financial crisis.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast on average that unemployment had remained stable at 9.1 percent.
Although job growth has slowed as the euro zone’s second-biggest economy struggled to gain momentum last year, thousands of new jobs are being created.
That pushed the employment rate to 66.1 percent from 65.9 in the third quarter, to its highest level since 1980, INSEE said.
President Emmanuel Macron took aim at France’s stubbornly high unemployment in his first major policy move in 2017 by easing the country’s strict labour laws, which employers have long said is an obstacle to hiring.
Excluding French overseas territories where joblessness tends to be higher, the unemployment rate in mainland France fell to 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 8.8 percent in the third quarter and also the lowest rate since early 2009.