Over half of Greek youth unemployed

ATHENS Thu Mar 8, 2012 8:06pm GMT

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek unemployment hit another record high in December and for the first time the number of young people without a job outnumbered those in work.

Statistics service ELSTAT said on Thursday that the overall jobless rate rose to 21 percent from 20.9 percent in November, twice the euro zone rate.

The average unemployment rate for 2011 jumped to 17.3 percent from 12.5 percent in the previous year, according to the figures, which are not adjusted for seasonal factors.

Youth were particularly hit. For the first time on record, more people between 15-24 years were without a job than with one. Unemployment in that age group rose to 51.1 percent, twice as high as three years ago.

Budget cuts imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund as a condition for saving the debt-laden country from a chaotic default have caused a wave of corporate closures and bankruptcies.

Greece's economy is estimated to have shrunk by a about a fifth since 2008, when it plunged into its deepest and longest post-war recession. About 600,000 jobs, more than one in ten, have been destroyed in the process.

Things will get worse before they get better, according to analysts. "Despite some emergency government measures to boost employment in early 2012, it is hard to see how the upward unemployment trend can be stabilized in the first half of the year," said Nikos Magginas, an economist at National Bank of Greece.

A record 1,033,507 people were without work in December, 41 percent more than in the same month last year. The number in work dropped to a record low of 3,899,319, down 7.9 percent year-on-year.

Pressured by its international backers under the terms of a planned European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout, the country's second since 2010, Greece last month slashed its minimum monthly wage by about a fifth to about 580 euros ($760), gross, to encourage hirings.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, however, said on Wednesday this was still higher than other debt-laden countries such as Spain.

The average jobless rate in the 17 countries sharing the euro rose slightly in December to a seasonally adjusted 10.6 percent, from 10.5 percent in November. ($1 = 0.7622 euros)

(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)