Nearly two-thirds of Greek youths are unemployed

ATHENS Thu May 9, 2013 8:39pm BST

Greece's Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras touches his head before a news conference on the liberalisation of closed professions and markets at the Finance Ministry in Athens May 9, 2013. REUTERS/John Kolesidis

Greece's Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras touches his head before a news conference on the liberalisation of closed professions and markets at the Finance Ministry in Athens May 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/John Kolesidis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek youth unemployment shot to a record 64 percent in February, underscoring the dire state of the recession-hit economy despite signs of improving business sentiment.

Repeated doses of austerity under international bailouts have almost tripled Greece's jobless rate since its debt crisis began in 2009, weighing on an economy in its sixth year of recession.

Overall unemployment has risen to an all-time high of 27 percent, data showed on Thursday, while joblessness in the 15-to-24 age group jumped to 64.2 percent in February from 59.3 percent in January.

"I've been looking for a job since 2010 and it has been extremely tough," said Angeliki Zerva, 24, a physiotherapy graduate. "Most employers do the job with interns and don't need to hire anyone."

Greek unemployment is more than twice the average rate in the euro zone, which reached 12.1 percent in March.

Athens has cut the minimum monthly wage for those under 25 years by 32 percent to about 500 euros (421.8 pounds) to boost hiring, but the jobless rate among young people has kept rising, even as some indicators suggest the worst of Athens' debt crisis is over.

The IOBE think-tank's overall economic sentiment gauge hit a 3.5-year high in April, it said on Thursday, the same day that the Athens bourse benchmark index hit its highest level since August 2011.

The IOBE mood index based on consumer confidence and business outlook gauges covering industry, construction, services and retail trade rose to 89.2 points in April from 88.1 in March.

However, the survey showed consumer pessimism worsened slightly in the face of the economic slump aggravated by tax rises and spending cuts demanded by Greece's international lenders, all of which have an impact on jobs.

"I once dreamt that I could work in my field but after three years of searching, I have very little hope that I will get a job, any job. It looks almost impossible," said 23-year old Evanthia Bouza, who has studied English literature.

The country's economic outlook remains uncertain, despite the progress it has made in recent months to cut its budget deficit and push privatisations, ratings agency Moody's said in a note on Thursday.

"Consumption will continue to decline, led by rising unemployment, wage and pension cuts and weak domestic confidence, resulting in a deferral of spending," said Moody's analyst Alpona Banerji, who expects the economy to contract by 5.3 percent this year.

(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou and Harry Papachristou; Editing by Deepa Babington and Stephen Nisbet)

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