The biggest rise in the unemployment count for nearly two years has fuelled fresh fears of a worsening economy.
The number of people out of work in the UK rose by 38,000 to 1.64 million between February and April. It is the biggest rise since July 2006.
In the West Midlands the figure was up 23,000 – an increase of 6.4 per cent – bringing the total of those without a job to 171,000.
Only London and the North East saw larger percentage rises, while in terms of numbers the region was only matched by the South East.
The data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the worst-hit employment sectors this year have been the manufacturing and financial services areas, which shed 11,000 and 20,000 jobs respectively during the first three months.
In the West Midlands, analysts said that the construction industry had also been badly affected, symbolising the overall decline in the housing sector.
Mike Hibbs, employment partner at Birmingham law firm Shakespeare Putsman and a visiting professor in employment law at Birmingham City University, said a trend he had identified was an increase in labour disputes such as that which affected Fujitsu in Birmingham earlier this week.
“How long that will continue when people are hitting themselves in the pocket remains to be seen,” he said.
Mr Hibbs also said that many employers worried by the effects of the credit crunch and a squeeze on margins may be bringing forward plans to out-source work to low cost economies such as China or India.
“That’s disturbing but it is a factor which could have a bearing on the overall levels of employment,” he added. “The construction sector has been badly affected, there is no getting away from that. I would expect the problems within that sector to persist for another six to nine months and unfortunately during that time I think the unemployment figures will get worse.”
He was supported by David Kern, economic adviser to the British Chambers of Commerce, who said: “Today’s figures convey serious warnings that the economic outlook is worsening.
“Given the expected slowdown in economic growth, it seems very likely that unemployment will increase further over the next year.”
Mr Hibbs said another factor to be considered was the escalating price of oil.
“It affects everything and it is making it difficult for companies to keep their costs down,” he said.
He said that he had a number of clients in the logistics sector who although they were remaining busy at present, were nevertheless worried by the rising fuel costs.
One of the legacies of falling employment levels could be a reduction in the skills base, he added.
“Many firms are reporting increasing difficulties in finding or retaining the skills they need and this could have a detrimental effect on the economy of the region in the long term” he said.
In a further sign of pressure from the economic slowdown, the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance has also risen – up by 9,000 last month to 819,300.
This is the fourth consecutive monthly rise – the first time that has happened for two years. April’s claimant count figure was revised upward 4,000 from 806,300 to 810,300.
There was also a dip in the rate of average earnings increase, which fell 0.2 percentage points to 3.8 per cent during the year to April. The figure was four per cent during the year to March.
Manufacturing jobs continued to reach a record low, down 33,000 in the latest quarter to 2.89 million, the worst since comparable records began in 1978.
Despite the increase in unemployment, the number of people in work increased by 76,000 in the three months to March to 29.55 million, a record high and reflecting an increase in the working age population.
There were 22.04 million people in full-time jobs, up 80,000 from the three months to January, and 7.51 million part-timers, a dip of 4,000.
The number of people in public sector employment dropped by 20,000 between March and December, to 5.76 million, while jobs in private firms rose by 96,000 during the period.
In the three months to April, 110,000 people reported they had been made redundant, down 2,000 from the three months to January.