* Jobless rate worsens to 21.9 pct in March, hits new high
* Nearly 1.1 million without work, most in big cities
* More than one in two young people without jobs
By George Georgiopoulos
ATHENS, June 7 Greece's jobless rate hit a
record high in March, data showed on Thursday, piling more
misery on Greeks and giving ammunition to politicians
campaigning against the nation's bailout terms in a
parliamentary election on June 17.
ELSTAT, Greece's statistics service, said that unemployment
hit 21.9 percent in March, up from a downwardly revised 21.4
percent in February, with 1.075 million people out of work.
It was a sharp rise from the same month a year ago when the
unemployment rate was 15.7 percent, meaning 342,134 jobs have
been lost since then, underscoring the depth of a recession that
is already in its fifth year.
"The situation is really bad, no one is hiring," said
Christina Tsakalou, 40, who lost her job as a store manager in a
"My unemployment benefit is 360 euros ($450) a month and
will run out in four months. I don't see things improving."
Many retail companies were downsizing as squeezed consumers
cut their spending, she added.
Unemployment was worst in the country's big urban centres,
particularly in Athens where it stood at 22.6 percent.
In the 15-24 age group the jobless rate was much higher -
52.8 percent - a factor that prompted many young people to vote
for the radical leftist SYRIZA party in an election last month
that failed to produce a viable government.
SYRIZA, which came second and is riding high in the polls
ahead of this month's election, promises it will renegotiate a
130-billion-euro bailout and ditch or dilute the austerity
measures that go with it, a move the country's lenders say may
force Athens to leave the euro zone.
Greece's jobless rate is almost double the euro zone
average, which stood at 11 percent in March, and is fast
approaching that of Spain, which hit 24.4 percent in the first
The sharp deterioration in the Greek labour market, coupled
steep cuts in pay and pensions prescribed by the European Union
and International Monetary Fund, has fuelled anger against the
two main parties - New Democracy and socialist PASOK - that back
Both shed voters in the May 6 election, even though New
Democracy managed to narrowly win.
Supporters and opponents of the bailout are running neck and
neck in opinion polls for the June vote.
"Unemployment is usually a lagging indicator of broader
economic activity," said Platon Monokroussos, an economist at
EFG Eurobank. "It appears the jobless rate has not yet peaked,
although some support may be provided during the summer months
from the tourism sector."
But recent industry reports suggesting a slowdown in tourist
arrivals were a worry, he said - the sector accounts for 15
percent of output and one in five jobs.
Tourism receipts tumbled by 15.1 percent to 396.3 million
euros in the first quarter, according to central bank data.
Greece's 215-billion-euro economy is expected to contract by
between 5 and 5.3 percent this year based on estimates by the
Bank of Greece and the OECD.
"If tourism which is labour intensive turns out weaker than
last year, the jobless rate is likely to rise further," said
Elias Lekkos, an economist at Piraeus Bank.