Eurozone unemployment continued at record highs in June and while a first fall in "horrendous" jobless numbers for more than two years offers some hope, officials and analysts were cautious on the outlook.
"The figures remain horrendously high," a European Commission official said, stressing the need to press ahead with economic reforms needed to boost employment. "Let's be frank. There is no silver lining here ... the figures are pretty much the same as the previous month."
The 17-nation eurozone jobless rate came in at 12.1 percent, unchanged from May, the Eurostat data agency said on Wednesday.
The jobless numbers, however, were down 24,000 to 19.26 million.
In the 27-member European Union, 10.9 percent of the workforce was out of a job, down from a revised 11 percent in May, it said, as the total unemployed fell 32,000 to 26.42 million.
Analysts had been looking to the report to back up recent data which suggested the stuttering eurozone economy was on the point of escaping a deep and damaging recession which has cost millions of jobs.
The damage done by the debt crisis and slump is clear in the figures -- in June 2012, the eurozone jobless rate was 11.4 percent, with the EU on 10.5 percent.
The crisis has affected the 16-25 age segment worst of all, with jobless rates running at catastrophic levels of 58.7 percent in Greece and 56.1 percent in Spain.
The data showed the eurozone youth unemployment rate rose to 23.9 percent in June from 23.8 percent in May, with the EU up to 23.2 percent after 23.1 percent.
Compared with June 2012, Eurostat noted that youth jobless numbers in the EU had fallen by 43,000 to 5.51 million but in the eurozone, it had increased by the same amount to 3.52 million.
Inflation meanwhile was flat in July at 1.6 percent, suggesting that there was little increase in demand to drive prices anywhere near the European Central Bank target of just below 2.0 percent in the medium term.
Analysts found little comfort in the figures.
Jonathan Loynes of Capital Economics said the two reports were "a little sobering after the recent run of stronger activity data."
If the June fall in eurozone jobless numbers was the first since April 2011 and the headline 12.1 percent rate was below forecasts for 12.2 percent, this "reflected a downward revision to previous months' data," Loynes said.
The unemployment rate "is still at a record high," he added, while huge differences -- Austria on 4.6 percent and Spain 26.3 percent -- "are a powerful reminder of the still enormous economic imbalances" at work in the bloc.
Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight was slightly more positive.
The fall in the jobless numbers "is likely a reflection of recent increased signs ... activity has stabilised and it fuels hopes that the eurozone can eke out marginal growth over the second half," Archer said in a note.
At the same time, "we doubt that June marks a decisive turnaround ... and we suspect that unemployment will trend modestly higher over the coming month," he said.
Christian Schulz of Berenberg Bank said the slight improvement in the jobless numbers might simply be seasonal, accounted for by a strong tourism season but "may be the turning point yet."
"The worst of the mass lay-offs seem to be over," Schulz said, while economic reforms driven by the debt crisis could finally be paying off.
Data on Tuesday had shown that European business and consumer confidence edged up again in July, extending gains since May while earlier the closely-watched Markit Purchasing Managers Index returned to positive territory for the first time for 18 months, signalling growth.