Unemployment in the crisis-plagued eurozone continued on its relentless upwards path in November to hit a record 11.8 per cent, new data showed Tuesday, as the European Union warned of growing disparities between northern and southern countries.

Greece and Spain - two of the countries hardest hit by the currency bloc's enduring debt crisis - continued to post the worst figures, with overall unemployment at around 26 per cent and youth unemployment above 56 per cent.

Austria, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands, meanwhile, posted the lowest overall unemployment rates, ranging between 4.5

per cent and 5.6 per cent.

Differences in unemployment and poverty risks have become “especially striking between the north and south of Europe,” EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor warned.

“A widening gap is emerging between the countries confronted with fast and rising unemployment and those that have better functioning labour markets,” he said in Brussels, while presenting the European Commission's 2012 review of employment and social developments.

“We are experiencing the consequences of a financial and economic crisis and a recession - and as a result of that, unemployment in the EU has reached levels not experienced in nearly two decades,” he added.

The eurozone's unemployment rate has steadily increased since mid-2011. The November figure was in line with the expectations of analysts, many of whom believe that it will rise further still.

The month saw another 113,000 people join the jobless ranks in the 17-member eurozone, according to Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency.

A total of 18.8 million people were unemployed, 2 million more than a year earlier. The jobless ranks included 3.7 million people under the age of 25, amounting to a youth unemployment rate of 24.4 per cent.

In the wider 27-member EU, the overall rate remained at 10.7 per cent in November, although another 154,000 people became unemployed, pushing the total to 26 million people.

Andor deemed it “unlikely” that there would be socio-economic improvement in Europe this year unless there is “greater progress on credibly resolving the euro crisis, finding resources for much needed investment ... and making finance work for the real economy.”

He called for countries to invest more in education and skill training, undertake labour market reforms and design better welfare and wage systems. Andor said he would also soon present a “social investment package” to tackle poverty and exclusion risks.

“As the crisis drags on, governments find it more difficult to invest in people,” he noted. “But we need social investment now. Otherwise, we will see a decline in our economic potential and much larger social costs in the future.”

At the same time, he defended the EU's push for austerity, calling it a “very important objective.”

The bloc has struggled to recover from the crisis and relaunch growth. Retail sales nevertheless nudged up by 0.1 per cent in November, bringing to an end a three-month decline, according to another set of data released by Eurostat on Tuesday.

The increase was, however, less than the 0.3-per-cent increase forecast by analysts.

Retail sales were down 2.6 per cent in November when compared with the same month in 2011, with weak consumer spending having undercut economic growth across the region.

Consumer confidence came in largely unchanged in December, the European Commission confirmed in a separate report also released Tuesday. - Sapa-dpa