Italy's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose in April to 12% from a revised 11.9% the previous month to hit its highest level in at least 36 years, new figures show today.

The data underscores the difficulties facing Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who has vowed to make unemployment a key priority.

National statistics office ISTAT said April's overall jobless rate was the highest since monthly series began in January 2004 and was also higher compared to quarterly records dating back to 1977.

Youth unemployment also rose to 40.5%, the highest level in at least 36 years, ISTAT said.

Analysts say a major challenge for Italy is to increase its chronically low rates of employment and participation in the labour market, which are among the lowest in the industrialised world, especially among women, the young and the elderly.

The employment rate fell to 56% in April from 56.1% in March, ISTAT said. Today's data showed there were 18,000 fewer people in work compared with the month before and 373,000 fewer than in April 2012.