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More than a quarter of young Iranians are unemployed, the head of Iran's Statistics Centre was quoted as saying on Monday but a reformist MP said the official figures might understate the problem. "Some 25.6 percent of Iranian youths aged 15 to 24 are employed," Mohammad Madad told the Mehr news agency. "This figure is 28.9 percent in urban areas and 19.4 percent in rural areas."

Madad said the overall jobless rate for the entire active population in Iran was 11.9 percent. Half of Iran's 70 million population is under 30 and the legal working age is 15. The figures given by Madad were higher than those given by Labour Minister Mohammad Jahromi in March, who said that unemployment had stood at 9.8 percent in late December. The labour minister had hailed what he said was a continuing fall in joblessness from 11.3 percent in the Iranian year from March 2006-7, to 10.6 percent in 2007-8. But reformist member of parliament Ali Reza Mahjoub said the real rate of unemployment was higher than the official figures suggested.

"The (officially announced) unemployment rate is one digit only on paper and it has not been achieved," Mahjoub told the Fars news agency. "Those who know enough about the current situation are aware that unemployment is at its most serious levels," said Mahjoub, who is also secretary general of the official trade union confederation and a member of the parliamentary social affairs committee. "Given the Statistics Centre officials have tweaked the standards of the International Labour Organisation, one cannot be sure that the current figures are accurate," he said.

"I think the real rate of unemployment cannot be less than 16 percent." Mahjoub also questioned whether the expansionary economic policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could succeed in creating enough new jobs to absorb the growing number of unemployed.

"Under the current conditions, no matter how much money the government gives away, it is impossible to create more than 450,000 to 500,000 jobs in a year," he said. The sharp increase in government spending overseen by Ahmadinejad since he took power in 2005 has come under increasing fire from economists and politicians alike.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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