Eurozone unemployment was unchanged at an "unacceptable" record 12.1% in July but another slight fall in the total jobless after an improvement in June offered some hope, official data showed on Friday.
The number of people without work in the 17-nation eurozone fell 15,000 to 19.23 million, after a drop of 35,000 in June, the Eurostat statistics agency said.
In the full 28-member European Union – including Croatia which joined in July – the unemployment rate was unchanged at 11%, with 26.65 million jobless, down 33,000 from June when the total shed 43,000.
EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor said the fall in the numbers was encouraging but "clearly it is unacceptable" that so many should still be without work.
"The recent improvements are minimal and the situation is still very fragile. This is no time for celebration or complacency," Andor said.
"On the contrary, now that we can see we are on the right employment policy track, we must step up our 'jobs effort'."
Highlighting the challenge ahead and the damage done by the economic slump and debt crisis, the figures also showed that the jobless total in both the eurozone and EU had increased by around one million compared with July 2012.
Analysts had been hoping the report would begin to reflect a gradual recovery which saw the eurozone post 0.3% growth in the second quarter to finally snap a deep 18-month recession which has destroyed millions of jobs.
Other data on Friday – a sharp fall in August inflation to 1.3% and a jump in the European Commission's business confidence index – suggested that the improvement was continuing.
However, "July's unemployment figures confirm that this is not yet boosting the labour market," said Jennifer McKeown at Capital Economics.
"With the unemployment rate still at a record high of 12.1%, the labour market is not yet staging a meaningful recovery," McKeown said, adding that it was likely that "job cuts will continue for the time being."
Martin van Vliet at Global Economics ING said the reports confirm "that the region is in a tentative recovery" but the wider picture remains uncertain.
"All in all, it is encouraging to see that unemployment is no longer rising and that economic sentiment is moving in the right direction," van Vliet said.
"But the tentative recovery is vulnerable to new economic shocks," he said, pointing to continued problems posed by the debt crisis and turmoil in the major emerging markets.
China, along with others such as Brazil, India and Indonesia have been badly hit by fears that the end massive US stimulus efforts will hurt growth.
The data on Friday showed Austria with the lowest unemployment at 4.8% in July, followed by Germany, Europe's powerhouse economy, on 5.3%.
The highest rates were in twice-bailed out Greece at 27.6% – according to the latest available figures for May – and Spain, on 26.3%.
Youth unemployment, the 16-25 age bracket, continued very high at 24% in the eurozone and 23.4% in the EU, after 23.9% and 23.5% respectively in June.
Compared with June, Eurostat figures showed the total 16-25 jobless numbers were down 16,000 in the eurozone and dropped 38,000 in the EU. Compared with a year earlier, there were falls of 16,000 and 53,000.
Greece was the again the worst affected, with a youth jobless rate of 62.9%, while Spain was at 56.1% in July.