Greek March unemployment rises, youth hardest hit

Thu Jun 6, 2013 8:09am EDT
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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's jobless rate rose again in March, reflecting the pain of a crippling recession after years of austerity under the country's international bailout.

Record joblessness is a major angst for Greece's coalition government as it scrambles to hit fiscal targets and show there is light at the end of the tunnel after years of unpopular tax rises and cuts to wages and pensions.

Unemployment rose to 26.8 percent from a downwardly revised 26.7 percent reading in February, according to statistics service data released on Thursday, and is more than twice the average rate in the euro zone which hit 12.2 percent in April.

"It's long-term unemployment that is the most worrisome as the percentage is higher than 60 percent," said economist Angelos Tsakanikas at think tank IOBE, adding that the proportion of jobless people out of work for more than a year had been around 45 percent in 2008.

Those aged 15 to 24 remain the hardest-hit, even though the jobless rate for that age group eased to 58.3 percent in March from 64.2 percent in February.

As the economy shrinks for a sixth straight year and with 1.3 million people officially without jobs - more than the population of neighboring Cyprus - the pain is felt across the board. Borrowers have fallen behind on loans and fewer workers are paying into pension funds.

Since the crisis erupted in 2009, Greece's jobless rate has tripled as hundreds of thousands lost their jobs or businesses and about 700 to 1,000 Greeks have been losing their jobs daily, according to ELSTAT estimates.

Once rare in a country where family ties are strong, rising numbers of homeless people, some of them old and sick, have also become a common sight across Athens.

Six out of 10 people on the street lost their home in the past two years and 47 percent of those have children, according to a study by Klimaka, a nongovernmental organization.   Continued...

Yannis, a 53-year-old unemployed chef, sits with his head in his hands in front of a graffiti mural in central Athens January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis