Jobless figures for January reached 5.037 million but Germany's Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement admitted soon afterwards that the real figure was much higher as it failed to include the 1.5 million Germans working on government job creation schemes.
"If you include this figure it means we have over six million unemployed," he said. "Given the fact that there are 38 million people on the labour market, this is a dramatically high figure which we have to reduce."
He said he expected the jobless rate to increase further in February and predicted a dip in March at the earliest. "The figures show what has been reality in Germany for years," he said.
The government said the unprecedented jobless rise was mostly due to changes in the way unemployment was being calculated. Under new guidelines introduced under Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's so-called Hartz IV economic reform programme, yesterday's unemployment figures for the first time included the estimated 230,000 Germans on social security. The government said the new figures brought an end to years of "falsified" jobless statistics which it claimed had been provided for decades under previous conservative governments.
But the explanation failed to deter opposition conservatives and business leaders. Several MPs said the last time Germany's jobless figure had reached such heights was in the winter of 1933. In January of that year, Hitler's Nazi party was elected to power. "Unemployment has not been so high for 70 years," Ronald Profalla, the opposition conservative deputy parliamentary leader, said.
Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian Prime Minister and a former candidate for Chancellor, said the figures were proof of the "absolute economic failure of Chancellor Schroder's government", while the opposition liberal Free Democrats said the government should resign and hold fresh elections. Business leaders were equally dismissive.
The figures continued to show huge differences in unemployment between west Germany (9 per cent) and the former Communist east (20 per cent).
They also served as a savage reminder that Mr Schroder's ambitious programme to kick-start the economy has yet to translate into real employment.
Hamish McRae, oppositeReuse content