MADRID -- Further evidence of Spain's economic slowdown was provided Thursday with the release of unemployment figures, which showed that a record total of more than 3 million people, including more than 400,000 immigrants, were jobless at the close of 2008.
Shortly after the figures were released, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero forecast a "tough and difficult" 2009 but expressed confidence that employment can begin to recover in March thanks to a "significant" amount of public investment.
The Labor and Immigration Ministry figures exceeded the worst forecasts and confirmed that during 2008 an additional 1 million people were added to the jobless rolls.
Immigrants were especially hard hit, with the number of unemployed foreigners at the end of last year climbing by 198,996 people, up 94 percent from the close of 2007.
The total number of unemployed immigrants stood at 410,960 at the end of 2008.
Spain has received a large number of immigrants in recent years, mainly from Latin America, Morocco and the countries of Eastern Europe.
Zapatero said the total of nearly 3.13 million unemployed in 2008 and the rise in that figure of 139,694 people in December alone is bad news, but not as bad as what was registered in October and November.
Looking ahead, the premier said Spaniards will have to brace themselves for more discouraging data over the next few months but that he expects employment to recover beginning in March, when the effects of the government stimulus efforts become apparent.
According to the prime minister, the impact of 33 billion euros ($45 billion) in public-works spending by the government - including an 11-billion-euro stimulus package announced late last year and other spending plans - "should have a favorable effect on unemployment," adding that he hopes "less worrying figures" will be seen in the near future.
The Socialist premier also noted that 3 million new jobs were created over the past four years and that the government's task is to recover the 1 million jobs lost in 2008 by the second half of 2009.
"That's what we're working on," said Zapatero, who also said private investment with the "support" of the government would help the economy recover.
According to the government figures, 32,080 immigrants in the industrial sector and 18,885 in agriculture were out of work at the close of 2008. A sharp rise in unemployment in the construction and services sectors, with 70,701 and 46,471 new jobless in December, respectively, also has affected immigrants disproportionately.
Immigrants now make up almost 10 percent of Spain's 46 million people.