UPDATE 2-Smaller jobless rise in January takes edge off Spain's labour market gloom

Tue Feb 4, 2014 5:16am EST

Related Topics

* Most January layoffs were from Spain's service sector

* Registered jobless rise was lowest for January since 2007

* Joblessness falls in seasonally adjusted terms

* Work remains hard to find, badly paid, for many Spaniards

By Susana Vera and Paul Day

MADRID, Feb 4 (Reuters) - The number of registered jobless in Spain rose in January as employers shed workers hired for the Christmas holiday season, but the rate of increase slowed from previous years, suggesting the ailing labour market may have touched bottom.

Joblessness rose 2.4 percent, or by 113,097 people, from December to 4.8 million, Tuesday's Labour Ministry data showed.

The rise was the first since October. But the ministry said it was also the smallest gain in the first month of the year since 2007, and in seasonally adjusted terms the figure fell by 3,907 people.

Unemployment has soared higher in Spain than in any other European Union country bar Greece since a decade-long property bubble burst six years ago and, based on labour market survey data from the national statistics office, the rate was 26 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013.

But recent stronger-than-expected economic growth has helped fuel hopes the worst may be over, and headcount in the still battered construction sector rose by 3,486 last month.

"These figures are, to some extent, positive, but continue to show a minimal, almost insignificant, step toward a real recovery in the labour market," said Citi economist Jose Luis Martinez.

"We've almost certainly touched bottom and are seeing some recovery, but it's very slow."

Almost 100,000 people were laid off from the services sector, while employment also fell in agriculture, by 8,110 people and in industry, by 3,577.

But in annual terms, registered jobless fell by 166,343 people, the ministry said.

"This month's figure remains significantly better than previous years, considering that in the last five years registered joblessness has risen by an average of 544,000 people on an annual basis," said Employment Secretary Engracia Hidalgo.

HARD TIMES

The Spanish economy emerged from a two-year recession in the second half of last year, prompting many economists to raise their economic forecasts and the government to forecast net job creation for 2014.

But for many Spaniards, making ends meet remains a constant struggle. Jobs are scarce and, when they do become available, wages are often pitifully low.

Toni Trigo Domenech, 34, has lived with her 41-year-old husband Majid Mnissar and their three children in her parents' small, two-bedroom flat in Madrid since he lost his job and the family were evicted from their rented apartment four years ago.

At the time, she was earning just 690 euros a month as an auxiliary nurse for the elderly and, with rent of 650 euro a month, Trigo turned to her family for help.

"Either we stopped making the rent payments or we stopped eating. I couldn't let my children go hungry", Trigo said.

Within a year, Trigo had also lost her job and has been unable to find full-time work since.

Today, she works two cleaning jobs which earn her less than 400 euros a month, and is forced to accept help from a food bank. Meanwhile, tempers fray in the tiny, shared flat.

"Things are desperate," she says. "There's just nothing out there and my husband's finding the same thing. It's not easy standing outside a supermarket asking people to donate. But it has helped us put food on the table all these months."

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