UK unemployment rose to 2.261 million in the three months to April, the highest since November 1996, the Office for National Statistics said.
The jobless rate rose to 7.2%, the highest since July 1997.
Young people have been hard-hit by the recession, with the unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds now at 16.6%.
The number of people in work fell by 271,000 over the three months to 29.11 million, the biggest quarterly drop since comparable records began in 1971.
The number of vacancies fell from 659,000 in May 2008 to 424,000 in May this year - a 35.6% drop.
The number of men and women of retirement age - plus 65 for men or plus 60 for women - in employment rose by 2.6% in the same period from a year earlier, the only age group to register a rise.