Italy's unemployment rate fell to 7.6% in May from 7.8% in April, posting the lowest reading for three years as some 21,000 jobs were created in the month, data showed on Friday.

A Reuters survey of 10 analysts had forecast a May jobless rate of 7.9%.

In the three months to May, employment was up by 120,000, or 0.5%, compared with the December-to-February period, national statistics institute ISTAT said.

May's jobless rate was the lowest since April 2020, when people stopped looking for work during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Compared with May 2022, the number of people in work was up by 383,000, or 1.7%, ISTAT said, adding that this was due to an increase in permanent employees and the self-employed, which offset a decrease in temporary employees.

However the youth unemployment rate, measuring job-seekers between 15 and 24 years old, rose to 21.7% in May from 20.7% the month before.

Italy's overall employment rate, one of the lowest in the euro zone, edged up in May to 61.2% from 61.1% the month before.

The Italian economy grew by a stronger-than-expected 0.6% in the first quarter from the previous three months, recovering after a 0.1% fall in gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of last year.

Rome is officially forecast 2023 full-year GDP growth at 1.0%, compared with 3.7% growth in 2022.

ISTAT gave the following data:

MAY APRIL MARCH FEB JOBLESS RATE 7.6 7.8 7.8r 7.9r YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT RATE (15-24) 21.7 20.7r 22.1r 22.0r EMPLOYMENT RATE (15-64) 61.2 61.1r 61.0 60.9 r=revised (Reporting by Gavin Jones)