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As Italy's unemployment rate hits new high, new premier vows jobs will be top priority

Italian premier Matteo Renzi listens to the debate prior to a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies, in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Premier Matteo Renzi told lawmakers on Tuesday that his first foreign trip as Italy's leader will be to Tunisia, not Brussels or Berlin, though he underlined Italy's place in Europe. Renzi's plan to make Tunisia his first visit as premier, and not strategic European capitals, was a clear signal of discontinuity with Italy's last two governments, which emphasized ties with Europe even as ordinary Italians bristled at austerity measures imposed at the EU's behest.(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

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Italian premier Matteo Renzi listens to the debate prior to a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies, in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Premier Matteo Renzi told lawmakers on Tuesday that his first foreign trip as Italy's leader will be to Tunisia, not Brussels or Berlin, though he underlined Italy's place in Europe. Renzi's plan to make Tunisia his first visit as premier, and not strategic European capitals, was a clear signal of discontinuity with Italy's last two governments, which emphasized ties with Europe even as ordinary Italians bristled at austerity measures imposed at the EU's behest.(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

ROME - Italy's new premier has vowed that his government's top focus will be reducing unemployment, which has hit a new high.

Premier Matteo Renzi tweeted during a Cabinet meeting Friday that the 12.9 per cent unemployment figure for January was "shocking." He pledged to focus efforts of his week-old government on his so-called Jobs Act. That is his plan for legislation to encourage hiring by slashing payroll taxes and allowing more flexibility in how permanent contracts are given.

January's figure was up 0.2 percentage points from December. Also worrisome was a record 42.4 per cent unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 24. In the south, youth unemployment soared past 51 per cent. Even in the industrial north, nearly one of out of every three people in that age range is unemployed.

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