BUSINESS

Greek unemployment eases in February for fifth straight month [Update]

Greece's jobless rate improved in February to its lowest rate in more than a year, data showed on Thursday, in another sign the Greek economy is emerging from a crippling six-year slump.

Unemployment dropped for a fifth consecutive month, to 26.5 percent from a downwardly revised 26.6 percent the month before, the Greek statistics service ELSTAT said. The jobless rate had reached a record 27.7 percent last September.

Joblessness is a major worry for Greece's coalition government, which is keen to show there is light at the end of the tunnel after years of harsh austerity and before European parliamentary elections later in May.

"The reading confirms the stabilising trend in unemployment and that the peak that was seen in the third quarter of 2013 is most likely behind us,» said Nikos Magginas, an economist at National Bank.

He said unemployment is starting to follow other leading economic indicators, such as manufacturing activity and economic sentiment, which are showing improvement.

Greece's unemployment rate is still more than twice the euro zone's average, which reached 11.8 percent in February. It has more than tripled since 2008, the start of a six-year slump that wiped out about a quarter of the country's national output.

Athens and its international lenders expect the economy to pull out of recession and expand by 0.6 percent this year.

Hardest-hit from joblessness are those aged 15 to 24. Their jobless rate, excluding students and military conscripts, registered 56.9 percent in February, compared with 23 percent when the crisis started.

Despite the improvement, with 1.3 million people officially out of work, a turnaround will take time even if recovery sets in this year.

When Greece's economy grew at rates of 3 to 5 percent, it created about 50,000 jobs annually on average, meaning it will take many years to absorb the one million unemployed people the debt crisis created. [Reuters]

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