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UPDATE 1-Spain unemployment falls end 2017 from year earlier as economy expands

Kitco News

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MADRID, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Spain's unemployment rate fell in 2017 from a year earlier, official data showed on Thursday, as economic growth continued to outstrip the European average and despite political uncertainty in the wealthy region of Catalonia.

Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates in the European Union, though joblessness has fallen sharply since the end of an economic crisis which ran for nearly six years from 2008 and sent unemployment soaring to nearly 27 percent.

By end-2017, unemployment had slipped to 16.55 percent from 18.63 percent a year earlier as the number people in work rose by 490,300 people and the number out of a job fell by 471,100, the National Statistics Institute said.

Fourth quarter unemployment was up slightly from the July to September period, when unemployment fell to lowest point in almost nine years to 16.38 percent. That marked the first quarterly increase since the beginning of 2017 and compared to a Reuters poll of 16.15 percent. In the fourth quarter, the total workforce fell by 15,900 people to 22.77 million people while the number of people holding jobs shrank by 50,900 people to 19 million, INE said.

Spain's economy expanded by more than 3 percent in 2017 , according to preliminary figures, though that is expected to ease to 2.3 percent this year after an illegal declaration of independence in Catalonia triggered Spain's worst political crisis in decades and prompted thousands of companies to relocate away from the region.

(Reporting by Paul Day)

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