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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.
In the capital's most rundown areas, ordinary Greeks who lost their jobs as a result of the country's economic crisis sleep outdoors side by side with AIDS patients, drug addicts and others on the fringes of society.
"I had many dreams. The only dream I have now is to survive the day and eventually find a home," said Marialena, 41, a homeless AIDS patient who declined to give her last name.
Scrambling for ways to ease the pain for Greeks, Athens wants to tap about 170 million euros of EU regional development funds to launch job programs and has asked the European Commission to approve the move.
A turnaround will take time to be felt in the labor market even if recovery sets in next year as authorities project. The central bank projects unemployment will peak at 28 percent before it starts to decline in 2015.
Reporting by George Georgiopoulos and Yannis Behrakis; editing by Stephen Nisbet