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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Frets Over High Unemployment

President Dmitry Medvedev expressed concern about rising unemployment during a rare round-table discussion on social issues Tuesday.

"The situation is difficult all over the world, not just in Russia, and we are very concerned," Medvedev told the meeting held at the Institute for Contemporary Development, a think tank that advises the Kremlin.

Unemployment grew by about 3 percent to nearly 2.2 million people in the past six months and is currently 8.5 percent, Medvedev said to the panel of experts, according to a transcript on the Kremlin web site. He said, though, that the rate was "much worse" in 1998 when it peaked at 13.3 percent.

The 2.2 million figure that Medvedev used came from last week's results of monitoring the labor market, which are released by the Health and Social Development Ministry every Tuesday. It was not clear why the president did not use the newer 2.23 million figure, which was released on the ministry's web site Tuesday evening. The new data put the unemployment growth rate at 1.6 percent, the same as last week's.

Medvedev didn't appear to offer any new figures or questions at the meeting, instead inviting the experts to discuss and exchange viewpoints. Medvedev last spoke about unemployment in January when he met with presidential envoys to the federal districts.

Anti-crisis social measures have been attracting more funds from the state's coffers lately, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin issuing a decree last Thursday that pledges an additional 34 billion rubles ($1 billion) to the regions for unemployment benefits and other labor-related measures.

Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova said Tuesday that government measures were directly responsible for a drop in unemployment growth from a weekly 9 percent this winter to 1.5 to 1.7 percent in March and April.

Golikova, whose ministry has focused on anti-crisis help for the labor market, also indicated that there might be more cash in the pipeline. "The funds we were going to use to help people start their own business are insufficient," she said at the meeting with Medvedev, Interfax reported. "We are adjusting the figures and propose to increase this amount."

Unemployment emerged as a top concern for Russians polled by the Levada Center at the end of March. A total of 49 percent of respondents said the government should make fighting unemployment a priority.

Also Tuesday, Medvedev held a meeting with senior officials in his Gorki country residence regarding the development of the pension system. Preparation of federal laws on pension reform is nearing completion, he said, reviewing some key government measures that will take effect starting in January. The expected reforms, such as increasing pensions and switching from a unified social tax to a system of insurance contributions, were announced by Putin on April 6 during his speech at the State Duma.